Team Notes Week 7 2017
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Bob Baum, the Cardinals were in fine spirits as they boarded a plane for London on Monday, buoyed by the addition of Adrian Peterson and his impressive debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There was a noticeable uptick in the team's energy and the home fans' enthusiasm from the time Peterson first touched the ball on Sunday. In fact, he got a standing ovation after his first carry, which went for eight yards.
"That's the type of impact I want to make with my teammates and fans," he said in front of his locker on Monday. "For me, I'm just happy to have the opportunity."
Five days after being acquired in a trade with New Orleans, Peterson rushed for 134 yards in Arizona's 38-33 victory over the Buccaneers. He scored on a 27-yard run on the team's first possession and punched one across from one yard out later in the game, giving him 99 career rushing touchdowns.
On Wednesday, Peterson was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
He said he felt no worse for wear after his 26 carries on Sunday.
"My body feels good," Peterson said. "I feel really good, not banged up. I got my squats in today, did some cardio. Ultimately I came out well. A couple of bruises, but outside of that I'm fresh."
The Cardinals (3-3) head to London for an NFC West showdown with the vastly improved Los Angeles Rams, who lead the division at 4-2.
While the Rams are staying in Jacksonville after beating the Jaguars there on Sunday and won't leave until Thursday, the Cardinals chose to depart late Monday afternoon, in part so they can adjust to the 8-hour time difference. Coach Bruce Arians said the team was to arrive in London about noon, local time, on Tuesday.
"We'll unpack and go straight to a workout and break a sweat, try to keep them up and stay awake," he said. "If you're going to take a nap, take it a little bit later in the day and then get a night's sleep."
Arizona's offense, which had sputtered through the first four games, looked like its old high-powered self on Sunday, with season highs in points (38), touchdowns (five), net yards (432), rushing yards (160), average yards per play (7.3), rushing average (4.6) and average yards per pass play (11.3).
With Peterson running the ball so effectively, and the line bolstered by the return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone, there was a lot less pressure on Carson Palmer. That meant he had to throw fewer times and had much more time when he did. With the Buccaneers packing the box to stop the run, receivers often ran wide open, especially in the first half, when Arizona built a 24-0 lead.
"Probably the best first half of offensive football, team football, that we've played in a long time," Arians said.
With the running game working, Palmer threw only 22 times. He completed 18 (including his first 14 attempts) for 283 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. In his first five games, Palmer threw 49, 36, 48, 51 and 44 times, and took a lot of vicious hits along the way.
Arizona entered the contest averaging a league-worst 51.8 yards per game on the ground. Peterson eclipsed that on the first series.
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss suggested, if the Cardinals' offense continues playing like this, it will be among the toughest to defend in the NFL, all because of one simple question: Where will a defense focus? Peterson, Palmer or Larry Fitzgerald?
All three -- each 32 or older -- turned in their best performances of the season.
"Obviously, a day for old guys," Arians said. "I know how to coach old guys."
Arizona has a three-headed monster again, with Peterson taking the role vacated by David Johnson, who suffered a fractured wrist in Week 1. But there's a difference with this version of Arizona's offense: Instead of a third-year star who is still blossoming, it has a surefire future Hall of Famer running the ball. What's more, Peterson happens to be complemented by another surefire Hall of Famer in Fitzgerald.
Then there's Palmer, who threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns on 18-of-22 passing while completing his first 14 attempts.
Together, they made the 2017 Cardinals look like the 2015 Cardinals -- at least for a day.
Fitzgerald finished with 10 catches for 138 yards, 128 of which came in the first half. His touchdown catch came off a play-action to Peterson on a play that Arians said has been in the Arizona playbook for a while. Because of how Peterson ran the ball early, the Cardinals finally were able to use it.
"That's all him, that's all him," Fitzgerald said of Peterson. "When you're running the plays and you're running downhill, the defense has to commit. You have to bring the safeties down in the box to be able to stop the run."
That opens the passing game. That opens Fitzgerald.
"The effectiveness is going to be a lot better, especially when you're able to mix in the run and have some passing plays off of that," Fitzgerald said. "We're going to be able to feed off of that. Hopefully we can keep it going."
Sunday's offensive production was what Arians had in mind had Johnson stayed healthy. Now that the Cardinals have revitalized their run game, they'll start seeing different coverages, Arians said. That'll make Palmer's dropbacks easier and less contested. That'll give him more time. That'll ignite the vertical passing game again.
Weinfuss added, "Arizona's offense, perhaps more than most, is intertwined. The running game begets the passing game, which begets the running game. On Sunday, it all was triggered by Peterson."
Now he is off to London for the second time in less than a month. Peterson was there with the Saints when they beat Miami 20-0 on Oct. 1.
"It's still a business trip at the end of the day because the main objective is to come back with a 'W,'" he said. "Just take it all in, of course enjoy when you have down time ... but stay within the ultimate goal of the journey, and that's winning. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, going into Week 6, the Cardinals led the NFL with a 69.9 passing play percentage, but fed Peterson 26 carries to just 22 pass attempts for Palmer. Fitzgerald got 50 percent of the team's targets. He is on pace for a 162-target finish this season.
No. 2 receiver John Brown was second on the team with just four targets. Andre Ellington came in with 32 targets over his last three games but saw just one go his way against the Buccaneers.
Palmer was 6-for-6 when targeting Fitzgerald on deep passes against the Bucs. Before Sunday's game, Fitzgerald had just seven receptions on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield this season.
After throwing for three touchdown passes on Sunday, Palmer now has 302 career touchdowns (294 passing and eight rushing).
Palmer, Peterson and Fitzgerald became the first QB-RB-WR trio of teammates in NFL history to account for at least 300, 100 and 100 touchdowns, respectively.
With Peterson handling a true featured role (and producing like it), nobody else in the Cardinals backfield did much. As long as he's healthy, he's the go-to. Aside from Ellington's lone target, Kerwynn Williams had three carries.
And finally. ... Cornerback Tramon Williams has been pushing for more playing time and Arians has now suggested strongly each of the past two days that Williams will replace Justin Bethel in the starting lineup opposite Patrick Peterson.
Asked if the change will be made for Sunday's game in London against the Rams, Arians said, "We'll see. We'll see. He's got to play more."
Bethel has been a blessing for receivers going up against him on a weekly basis; his situation bears watching as does Peterson's status.
Peterson has every intention of playing in Twickenham Stadium on Sunday. Peterson told reporters Wednesday he's ready to go for the team's overseas tilt against the Rams despite dealing with a nagging quad injury. Arians said Peterson won't do anything at practice Wednesday, however.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley
RBs: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, D.J. Foster
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, KeeSean Johnson, Trent Sherfield, Andy Isabella, Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper, Christian Kirk
TEs: Charles Clay, Maxx Williams
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
A reporter asked head coach Dan Quinn on Monday if he is satisfied with how much All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones is getting the ball.
"No, and the reason I say that is that he's such a factor," Quinn said. "We've got to get more possessions, more time, more plays. And I think that's more a byproduct of getting Julio the ball more. It's not where he needs the ball more. We need more plays so he can get the ball more."
As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure suggested, Quinn's reference had a lot to do with Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins, a game in which the Falcons ran 56 offensive plays compared to 64 for the Dolphins. Atlanta ran just 23 plays in the second half.
The Falcons averaged 62.5 plays per game through the first four games.
"It's not an example of we're comfortable with playing plays in the 50s," Quinn said. "We need more plays and better stops to create more opportunities to make plays."
Jones leads the Falcons with 25 catches for 367 yards but has no touchdowns through five games. He has 38 targets, which is tied for 32nd among all players, tight ends and running backs included. Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown leads the league with 72 targets.
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said before the season that he would try to find more ways to get Jones the ball in the red zone. However, Jones has just one target and no catches on 11 routes run in the red zone this season.
In the loss to the Dolphins, Jones caught six passes for 72 yards on seven targets. Tight end Austin Hooper led the team with seven catches (48 yards) on nine targets. Jones played 45 of 57 offensive snaps -- by design -- coming off a hip flexor injury suffered in a Week 4 loss to Buffalo.
Asked if he thought Jones had full explosion back coming off the injury, Quinn said, "I did. ... I thought his aggression, his style, was really on display (Sunday). And I thought it was a vintage game for him in terms of the aggressiveness that he goes to catch it. So, it was a great to have him back."
Jones, however, was not targeted on the final seven plays of the Falcons' final drive, which ended with Matt Ryan being picked off by Dolphins safety Reshad Jones on a pass intended to Hooper and tipped into Jones' hands by teammate Cordrea Tankersley. It was a play Quinn said Hooper should have attacked more aggressively.
Quinn emphasized that Jones is the primary go-to guy in such late-game scenarios, despite Sunday's end result.
"He's our guy," Quinn said of Jones. "He's 100 percent our guy. But wherever the coverage takes you, there's time where, 'No, you can't do that.' They're going to say, 'He's not going to beat us on this play.' And so then, that might not be the time to do it.
"But there's times that it is, even if he's got two (defenders) on him. On that particular one, it wasn't. That's certainly wouldn't be what I would want to discuss with you today to say, 'Every time we have a got-to-have-it moment, we're going to throw it to Julio Jones.'"
Jones and the Falcons have a Super Bowl rematch at New England on Sunday night. He had four catches for 87 yards and no touchdowns on four targets in the 34-28 overtime Super Bowl LI loss to the Patriots. ...
Meanwhile, the Sports Xchange suggests the Falcons have not learned their lesson from that loss to New England.
With them, no lead is safe, after the Dolphins roared back from a 17-0 deficit to win Sunday.
The Falcons have been outscored 72-40 in the second halves of their first five games of the season. They come out strong and then fizzle.
Just like in Super Bowl LI.
The Falcons appear to lack a killer's instinct to finish off opponents.
"I recognize the story," Quinn said. "I don't think it's justified, but I recognize the story."
From a fantasy perspective, forcing opponents to come from behind -- and then allowing them to -- isn't necessarily a bad thing. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Ryan, the reigning MVP, has thrown six interceptions over the past three games, including two losses. He's committed seven turnovers. Ryan missed on his first throw of 20 yards or more, but connected with wide receiver Marvin Hall on his second deep ball for a 40-yard touchdown.
It was the first touchdown catch for Hall, who was promoted from the practice squad last Saturday.
Ryan had connected on only 3 of 15 passes traveling 20 yards or more before his bomb to Hall.
Ryan went 24-of-35 for 248 yards and one touchdown. Per the Sports Xchange, this is the 60th straight game Ryan has thrown for at least 200 yards and this is his 23rd straight game with a passing touchdown -- currently the longest streak in the NFL.
With Mohamed Sanu out with a hamstring injury, Ryan moved the ball around to seven receivers in the first half.
Sanu was slated to practice Wednesday; his status is something I'll be watching closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates for more. ...
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Austin Hooper now has 16 targets in his last two games after seeing just two in each of his first three games. A big stat line didn't come against the Dolphins today, but this is encouraging usage for the second-year tight end. He was also on the field for over 90 percent of the team's plays. ...
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman teamed up for 115 total yards. Freeman finished the game with nine carries for 68 yards and a 7.6 yards-per-carry average.
Coleman scored his 10th career rushing touchdown and his first of the year. He finished the game with nine carries for 32 yards.
The run game was stymied in the second half and was held to 18 yards after it amassed 82 yards in the first half.
Right tackle Ryan Schraeder didn't have a good game against the Dolphins. He missed the Detroit and Buffalo games and most of the Green Bay game with a concussion.
Schraeder allowed six of the Falcons' 10 total pressures and finished with a 24.4 grade from profootballfocus.com. He ranked 51st out of the 51 tackles to play before the Sunday night game.
Right guard Wes Schweitzer continues to play well after a shaky debut in Chicago.
Schweitzer didn't allow a pressure in 39 pass blocking snaps and finished with his highest game grade (83.3) of the season from profootballfocus.com. He has now graded as a top-10 guard in two consecutive games. ...
And finally. ... After calling the first four games of the season from the sideline, Sarkisian called plays from upstairs in the coaches' box on Sunday against the Dolphins.
Sarkisian split his time calling games from both in the preseason, ultimately deciding to stay on the field. That changed Sunday.
Quinn said the decision to move Sarkisian from the sideline up to the coaching box was one made during the bye week.
"Through the offseason, it was one of the topics that I discussed with him," Quinn explained. "And during the preseason, we tried both. I prefer him being up and just seeing everything. So, it was really after the bye, and he said, 'No problem.' It was just more really about me (designing) the ability to have the call to the quarterback right there and seeing everything to the hash, the yard line, really quickly. And I think our system, it benefits you to be in the press box."
On Sept. 7, Sarkisian said he preferred coaching on the sideline much more than in the box because of the ability to communicate with players. Obviously Quinn feels it's in the team's best interest for Sarkisian to be in the box.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage
TEs: Austin Hooper, Luke Stocker, Jaeden Graham
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley characterized it, the Ravens' 27-24 overtime loss Sunday to the Bears was devastating, troubling and historic.
The once-dominating Ravens defense gave up 231 yards rushing -- the most ever in the franchise's 22-year existence. For a team that built its reputation on shutting down running backs with the likes of Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata, this run defense hit rock bottom against a Bears ground attack that ranked only 12th in the NFL.
The disturbing part is Baltimore knew Chicago was going to try to run the ball down the defense's throat because Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was making his first road NFL start. But the Ravens still couldn't stop the Bears, who ran the ball on 54 of their 75 plays and gained 67.5 percent of their yards on the ground.
The Ravens lost to a rookie quarterback at home for the first time under head coach John Harbaugh (they had previously been 9-0). But it wasn't Trubisky's arm (8-of-16 for 113 yards) that beat Baltimore.
Howard gained 167 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Tarik Cohen added 32 yards rushing. And Trubisky scrambled for 32 yards, including 19 yards to convert a third down.
Of course, a little more offense would go a long way to helping. But as NFL.com put it: "Baltimore's offense is a mess."
Harbaugh deflected some of the criticism aimed at offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg on Monday, saying no one should point the finger at him even though the Ravens rank among the worst offenses in the NFL.
The Ravens are the only team with an offense that ranks in the bottom five in yards and offensive points per game. Baltimore also failed to score an offensive touchdown against the Bears.
Mornhinweg, who was promoted to coordinator about this time last year, is the play caller for an offense that ranks 29th in yards per game (289.2) and 30th in offensive points per game (15.3).
"I think anytime you try to pin the blame on any one person in a team sport like this, that's always going to be a mistake. That's nonsensical," Harbaugh said. "It just doesn't work that way. But I understand that's how it works. We all understand that."
Harbaugh has twice fired offensive coordinators during the season in his 10 years in Baltimore. In December 2012, he dismissed Cam Cameron and hired Jim Caldwell, who helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl that season. In October of last season, he made the change from Marc Trestman to Mornhinweg, who has failed to turn around the offense.
In 21 games under Trestman, Baltimore ranked 15th in total yards and 25th in scoring. In 17 games under Mornhinweg, the Ravens are 23rd in total yards and 23rd in scoring.
The Ravens have been held to one or no offensive touchdowns in seven games under Mornhinweg. That's 41 percent of the time.
The one area where the Ravens have significantly improved is running the ball. Baltimore has the sixth-best ground attack in the league, although a large part of the credit for this goes to senior offensive assistant Mark Roman.
Harbaugh surprisingly chose to retain Mornhinweg as his play-caller at the end of last season. He didn't sway from that decision as the offense has played a major role in Baltimore's 3-3 start this season.
"I think Marty is a great coach. There's no question in mind about it," Harbaugh said. "I've seen him over the years, I know what he can do. I know what he's trying to do. You do everything you can to put your guys in position to make plays and you're in it together."
And the issues clearly go beyond play calling.
With Jeremy Maclin inactive and Breshad Perriman hurt (he left the game early), Baltimore had no wide receiver take control of a game the Ravens were favored to win by seven points. The Ravens simply dropped the ball against the Bears. To be more accurate, the Ravens dropped, dropped, dropped, dropped and dropped the ball.
There were five critical drops, the most drops by a team in Week 6. Two of them led to game-changing interceptions and 14 points for the Bears.
This time, you can't put all the blame on quarterback Joe Flacco and Mornhinweg, the most popular fall guys. As Hensley put it, "Flacco can't make Perriman hold on to the ball when it hits him in the hands. Mornhinweg can't help it when Chris Moore lets the pass ricochet off his shoulder."
"We have to catch the ball better, there's no doubt about it," Harbaugh said.
Without Maclin and Perriman, Baltimore was left with one proven receiver (Mike Wallace) and three question marks. Moore, Michael Campanaro and Chris Matthews had a combined eight catches in the first five games.
The deflection off Moore in the fourth quarter resulted in a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown. Campanaro dropped a third-down pass in the second quarter that would've extended a drive. And Matthews would've had a touchdown if he didn't trip over his own feet in the end zone.
"We've just got to focus in," Campanaro said. "That's just repetition; that's practice. I mean, we're catching passes every day in practice. It's just got to translate over to the games. Those are plays as receivers we can't have, we can't make."
As a result, this marked only the fourth home game in Harbaugh's 10 seasons as coach that Baltimore failed to score an offensive touchdown.
"You keep doing everything you can, no matter what happened in the past," said Flacco, who was 24-of-41 for 180 yards. "Everybody always says -- and it is a bit cliché -- about putting it behind it you and moving on to the next one, but it is what you have to do. It is easier said than done, but it is what we have to do, and I think we have the guys that can do it."
With a trip to Minnesota (4-2) looming this week, the Ravens need to shore up their passing game and correct the flaws in their run defense to get back on course. And that will be easier said than done. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Flacco was inaccurate most of the afternoon and completed almost nothing downfield -- his longest pass play going 17 yards.
Overall, Flacco went 24 for 41 for 180 yards and the two interceptions. He had a 48.8 passer rating.
"We've got to find some yards in the passing game," Harbaugh said. "There's a lot of season left. We have good players, we have good coaches, and we're capable of putting together a good passing attack."
Wallace caught three passes for 30 yards against Chicago. He now has 501 receptions for 7,563 yards and 54 touchdowns.
With Terrance West sidelined, Alex Collins and Javorius Allen split carries and combined for 123 yards. Both were effective making plays even when the pocket collapsed. Allen played more than double the snaps of Collins (46-21), but Collins was far more productive, rushing for 75 yards. Allen finished with 66 total yards on 10 carries and three catches
Collins and Allen are capable of providing a spark for the beleaguered offense, but the rushing game will likely find it tough going against Minnesota this week. ...
Tight end Maxx Williams had to leave the game with an ankle injury that had kept him out of the previous three games. Williams was hurt after catching a pass, but lost a fumble on the play that ended a potential scoring drive on the 19-yard line. Williams, a second-round draft pick in 2015, has been hampered with injuries throughout his career. According to the Sports Xchange, Williams could now be the 17th player headed to injured reserve.
In addition, Perriman suffered a possible concussion when he was hit attempting to catch a pass in the second quarter.
As noted above, Maclin (shoulder) did not play against the Bears after being limited in practice throughout the week. The team sorely missed him. Maclin has caught 16 passes for 159 yards and leads the Ravens with 28 targets and two touchdown receptions. In addition, West seems likely to miss more time with his injured calf.
Maclin was on the practice field Wednesday; West was not.
I'll be following up on the status of all three via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin, Jaleel Scott
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Sean McDermott reiterated in recent days his faith in the Bills' wide receivers -- or, as ESPN.com's Mike Rodak noted, "What's left at the position after the departure of Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in free agency, August's trade of Sammy Watkins and the surprise training-camp retirement of Anquan Boldin."
The first-year coach has the back of his players, but in this case McDermott is backing a position group that is on pace to produce less than any team's wide receivers over the past 17 seasons.
Through five games, the Bills' wideouts are averaging 10.2 targets, 4.8 receptions and 63.2 yards per game. All of those would be the lowest rates in the NFL since at least 2001, according to ESPN Stats and Information's position-specific pass target data.
Among full seasons, the 2008 Oakland Raiders' wide receivers were the NFL's worst, having averaged 5.13 receptions and 73.88 receiving yards per game. With draft bust JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, the Raiders' top pass catcher was tight end Zach Miller (56 catches for 778 yards) and their second-leading receiver was running back Darren McFadden (29 catches for 285 yards). Johnnie Lee Higgins was Oakland's top wideout with 22 receptions for 366 yards.
Meanwhile, the 2003 Baltimore Ravens hold the distinction of having the fewest pass targets per game (11.13) to their wide receivers -- and for good reason. Jamal Lewis ran for 2,066 yards that year, the third-most all time.
LeSean McCoy, who has 279 rushing yards through five games this season, would need to average 162 yards per game the rest of the way to match Lewis' production that season. McCoy is averaging 3.2 yards per carry, which would be his career low, so clearly it is not a prolific running game that is taking opportunities away from the Bills' wide receivers.
If anything, it is the Bills' lack of a legitimate passing game that is taking opportunities away from the run game.
"There are certain routes, certain bracketing in coverages, and all the attention is on the [running] back," McCoy said Sunday. "So as much as I want to be angry, we've just got to adjust to it and figure out a way to beat it."
Similar to the 2008 Raiders -- whose wideouts besides Higgins were Ronald Curry, Chaz Schilens, Javon Walker and Ashley Lelie -- the Bills do not strike fear in opposing defenses with their wide receivers. As with Miller and McFadden in 2008, the Bills' leading pass catchers have been a tight end (Charles Clay, with 20 catches for 258 yards) and a running back (McCoy, 27 catches for 189 yards).
Jordan Matthews (10 catches for 162 yards) is the clear No. 1 among Bills wide receivers, but he missed last Sunday's loss to Cincinnati because of a thumb injury and could miss further time going forward. That has left Zay Jones (five catches for 66 yards) as Buffalo's top wideout, but he has been one of the least-reliable receivers in the league.
Among the 104 wide receivers with at least 10 targets this season, Jones ranks last in receptions per target rate (25 percent).
Rodak went on to suggest part of the problem has been Tyrod Taylor, whose accuracy on passes, especially to Jones, has been spotty. It is also fair to blame Taylor for not throwing to his wide receivers when they are open, just as it is fair to assign blame to those receivers for not getting open more consistently.
Of the 434 passing routes run by Bills wide receivers this season, Taylor has targeted those players 51 times -- or about 12 percent of their routes. Taylor ranks fifth among NFL quarterbacks in average time in the pocket (2.46 seconds) and average time before pass (2.73 seconds), so he is being protected but holding the ball.
Injuries only figure to complicate the problem. With Matthews out, the Bills had to dig deeper at receiver. Buffalo signed lanky veteran Andre Holmes to a three-year deal in March that averages $1.716 million per season and guaranteed him $2.45 million. Holmes is the Bills' highest-paid receiver, but he played the fourth-most snaps (31) of Bills wide receivers in Week 5.
"Just rolling guys in and out based on game plan, based on the opponent, and also Andre's role on special teams," McDermott said Monday. "That also plays a role in this."
Holmes has been mostly a red-zone target, with two touchdowns on six catches for 35 yards. A pair of smaller receivers, Brandon Tate and Kaelin Clay, received more playing time Sunday. Clay was targeted once without a catch, while Tate had two catches for 25 yards and a touchdown.
The Bills are banged up at tight end, too. Charles Clay tore his meniscus and sprained the MCL in his left knee in the first quarter of Sunday's loss, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and could miss as many as six weeks.
That leaves Nick O'Leary and converted quarterback Logan Thomas, who caught his first NFL pass Sunday, as the team's top tight ends. Although O'Leary posted career highs Sunday -- five catches for 54 yards -- and earned the praise of McDermott afterward, life will be even easier for defenses without Clay in the lineup. ...
In a positive development, McDermott announced on Wednesday that Matthews has been cleared to practice, will the wideout will be limited and is still day-to-day.
Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow had already reported on Tuesday that Matthews wasn't letting the injured thumb prevent him from making a few catches when his other hand was working just fine. Even before he was cleared for practice, Matthews spent time catching passes solely with his left hand on the sideline Monday, after the Bills held a brief session upon returning from their bye week.
"I'm trying to make sure I hone in on all my other skills," Matthews said. "My left hand is my off hand, so I feel if anything, this is time for me to actually work on one of my deficiencies."
Matthews, who was officially listed as limited Wednesday, missed a majority of the preseason after hurting his chest during his first practice with the Bills. I'll be following up on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
In a related note. ... The Bills signed former Bears wide receiver Deonte Thompson on Tuesday. ...
Buffalo also made a roster move Monday by activating offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, a week after he completed serving a 10-game NFL suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Henderson has acknowledged using marijuana to relieve the effects of Crohn's disease. To make room for Henderson, cornerback Greg Mabin was waived.
Henderson was allowed to practice with the team during the offseason and play in preseason games. He was also allowed to attend team meetings and work out at the Bills facility while serving his suspension.
Depending on his conditioning, he could be in play for Sunday's game.
The offensive line is in a state of flux due to injuries and poor play, and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison admitted it's still "a work in progress." Left tackle Cordy Glenn has missed most of the last three games with foot and ankle injuries, and the Bills have used rookie Dion Dawkins in his place at left tackle. Also, right tackle Jordan Mills continues to be the weak link up front, and right guard John Miller - a two-year starter - was benched for Buffalo's last game in Cincinnati and was replaced by journeyman Vlad Ducasse.
Glenn was set to practice fully on Wednesday.
Despite the offensive issues, the Bills returned to work Monday to find themselves sitting in a playoff position through six weeks of the NFL season. Thanks to a bevy of surprising results around the league Sunday, the Bills are sitting in fifth place overall in the AFC with a 3-2 record.
QBs: Matt Barkley, Josh Allen
RBs: Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Jason Croom
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As ESPN.com's David Newton reminded readers, Jonathan Stewart took the pitch left on Thursday night and was immediately greeted by Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Stewart escaped that tackle, but then he faced three other defenders running clean through the line. He ultimately found himself under a pile of six Eagles, with not a blocker within arm's length.
Afterward, Stewart appeared frustrated as he stood and stared at coaches on the sideline.
"No more than anybody else would be," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said last Friday before the Panthers (4-2) began a three-day break. "The biggest thing is we've got to not have the negative runs, the runs for losses. We want to make sure we take care of that."
The Panthers had six negative runs, including three by Stewart, against the Eagles. This came a week after they had nine (eight by Stewart) against Detroit.
"We flat-out missed some blocks," head coach Ron Rivera said.
This wasn't what Rivera envisioned after a preseason loss at Tennessee when he was more impressed with a 4-yard run by Stewart than a 38-yard catch and run by rookie running back Christian McCaffrey.
He made it clear that was what he wanted the offense to be about.
"It was a very physical-natured play," Rivera said. "The offensive line fired off, got the good surge, Jonathan gets a crease and picked up 4 good yards. That's what I'm looking for. I'm looking for that physical, tough running presence that Jonathan gives."
The Panthers have been anything but that the past two games against Detroit and Philadelphia. Running backs have averaged less than a yard per carry (29 on 34 attempts) in those games. They had 1 yard on 13 attempts in Thursday night's 28-23 loss to the Eagles. Without quarterback Cam Newton during this span, the running game would be almost non-existent. He had 71 of the team's 108 total yards in those two games. (The Panthers had just 80 total yards against Detroit and 28 against Philadelphia.)
The last time the Panthers had consecutive performances with less than 100 yards rushing was the ninth and 10th games last season, when they ran for 99 yards against Kansas City, followed by 50 against New Orleans.
The latest two-game total of 108 yards is the team's lowest since the second and third games of the 2014 season, when Carolina had 62 yards against Detroit and 42 against Pittsburgh for a combined 104.
Two weeks later, the Panthers went on a run of 35 straight games -- including five playoff games -- with at least 100 yards.
They topped that mark in all 19 games during the 2015 season, including the loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50.
"We've got to be better across the board," Shula said. "We've got good run-blockers, we've got good schemes. That's never been an issue and I don't see that being an issue.
"But we want to make sure we get that back in good balance for sure."
If Stewart is frustrated, you can't blame him. He's averaging 41.2 yards rushing and 2.9 yards per carry. He has only 17 yards on 26 carries in the past two games, including minus-4 yards on eight carries against the Eagles.
Stewart has a career average of 4.3 yards per carry.
According to David Newton, the Panthers don't believe the issue is Stewart, who at 30 is at an age when the production of running backs typically falls off.
But they do have an issue with the negative plays. It figured into a decision to pass on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 with just under a minute left from the Philadelphia 48.
Both were incomplete. One was tipped with tight end Ed Dickson wide open, and the other was just off target to McCaffrey, who had room to run because a defender jumped up and threw Cam Newton's timing off.
"I know it's a game of inches, but that one was literally inches away from being a big play for us," Rivera said.
Inches are what the Carolina backs are getting in the running game. Correcting that was a focus when players begin preparing for Chicago on Tuesday.
Entering last Sunday's games, the Bears' defense ranked 13th against the run, allowing 100.2 yards a game.
The Panthers entered Sunday's games ranked 20th in the league with 95.5 yards rushing a game. They haven't finished a season with less than 100 yards a game since 2004, when they averaged 98.6 yards.
They've finished in the top 10 in rushing five of the past seven seasons, including second (142.6 ypg.) in 2015 en route to an NFL-best 15-1 record. ...
While the Panthers haven't been running the ball lately the way they're accustomed to, but they hope to be getting a key part of that back this week.
According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, center Ryan Kalil is optimistic he's going to be able to return this week after missing five games with a neck issue.
Kalil said he was "full-go" in practice, and that he had "made a lot of progress and just excited to be back out there."
"We'll keep rehabbing, keep working and see how it goes," he said.
I'll be watching for more on that in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... According to the Sports Xchange, Newton hasn't been as accurate in home games than he is on the road. He has thrown three interceptions in each of the past two home games.
In three road games this season, he was picked off twice.
"We weren't on the same page and it showed," Newton said after his 28-for-52 outing in against the Eagles.
The interceptions were particularly disturbing. Two of them led to touchdown drives of less than 20 yards for the Eagles.
"You have to protect the ball better," Newton said. "I am mostly talking to myself with that. The scores that (the Eagles) did get, they were layups."
For the season, Newton has nine touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
Meanwhile, with Newton throwing a career-high 52 times, McCaffrey led the team in targets, just as he does on the year. Kelvin Benjamin was just behind McCaffrey with 13 targets. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Benjamin "looked fantastic and was completely in-sync with Newton."
Conversely, Harmon noted that Devin Funchess was a disappointment for fantasy owners with just three catches for 36 yards, but his usage was all still positive. He drew nine targets, was on the field for 86 percent of the team's plays and averaged 11.1 air yards per target. Harmon added: "Funchess is still on track for a breakout season. ..."
Running back Fozzy Whittaker departed in the first half with an ankle injury and didn't return.
The Panthers do not believe that Luke Kuechly suffered another concussion even though the star linebacker remains in the concussion protocol, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The Panthers announced Sunday that Kuechly remains in the protocol and needs to go through a series of steps before being cleared to play. The concussion protocol requires a player to pass five levels of tests before he is cleared. But all tests conducted on Kuechly since Thursday night's loss have not revealed another concussion, sources told Schefter. ...
Worth noting, Benjamin left practice early Wednesday and was listed as a nonparticipant. It's not clear if he aggravated his ongoing issue or if this is sometihng new; I'll have more on his status (along with that of Stewart, who was limited by an ankle issue) when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...
And finally, the Panthers released quarterback Brad Kaaya.
It seemed someone was surplus to requirements when they promoted Garrett Gilbert from the practice squad Monday, since they still had Newton and Derek Anderson on hand.
Kaaya was claimed off waivers from Detroit at final cuts, but the Panthers apparently preferred Gilbert (who was in camp with them all offseason) as their developmental quarterback.
QBs: Kyle Allen, Cam Newton, Will Grier
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Chris Hogan, Greg Dortch, Brandon Zylstra
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson, Rookie Mitchell Trubisky reminded everyone on one play Sunday why the Bears believe he can develop into a franchise quarterback.
Trubisky's 27-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass to tight end
Rolling outside the pocket to the right, Trubisky -- without the benefit of setting his feet -- fired a downfield strike to Sims, who somehow got behind Baltimore's secondary.
"On that play, my first read wasn't open," Trubisky said. "The second read was also covered. I was running out of time and I saw Dion wide open. I just threw the ball up there and he made the catch. I didn't even see the catch because I was on the ground. I'm looking forward to seeing it on the highlights."
That's a big-time throw for any NFL quarterback to make -- much less a rookie in his second career start.
"He's a different kind of guy," receiver Kendall Wright said. "Mitch is a baller. He gets better every week, and nothing bothers him."
Trubisky followed it up with a huge third-down conversion in overtime to set up Connor Barth's game-winning field goal.
Look, Trubisky had plenty of help in the Bears' 27-24 OT victory over the Ravens on Sunday -- even though the Bears (2-4) came close to giving the game away.
The Bears' defense forced three turnovers -- a miraculous turn of events since the Bears had only three takeaways over the first five games.
Jordan Howard rushed for 167 yards.
And Tarik Cohen became the third Bears player to throw for a touchdown in the past two weeks -- joining Trubisky and punter Pat O'Donnell -- when he connected on a 21-yard halfback pass to Zach Miller.
Still, the fastest way for the franchise to get moving in the right direction is for Trubisky to develop into the type of quarterback who leads you to victory.
Trubisky isn't quite there yet, but we've already seen glimpses of it.
Aside from the touchdown to Sims, the most encouraging part of Trubisky's day was his poise. He handled Cody Whitehair's bad shotgun snap (a disturbing theme in 2017) near the goal line like a seasoned professional.
Trubisky did something on Sunday that no Bears quarterback had accomplished since 2015: Win on the road.
The Ravens are a flawed team, but their defense can still get after it. And remember, Trubisky is the only rookie quarterback to win in Baltimore since John Harbaugh took over as Ravens head coach.
Trubisky's overall numbers weren't great (8-of-16 for 113 yards and one touchdown), but he played winning football.
And as much as fantasy owners would like more, that's what matters to the Bears. ...
As noted above, Cohen's 21-yard halfback pass to Miller was Chicago's second touchdown throw from a non-quarterback in the past two games. O'Donnell threw a touchdown on a fake punt in Week 5.
In fact, the Bears now have a touchdown pass by a non-quarterback in three of their last seven games dating back to last season. Wide receiver Cameron Meredith threw a TD pass in the 2016 season finale.
The Bears had zero such touchdowns in their previous 143 games, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Cohen previously lined up at quarterback to run the Wildcat in Week 1, but can now officially add dual-threat quarterback to his ever-growing NFL résumé; a list that already included rusher, receiver and return man. ...
Howard's career-high 167-yard effort came on a career-high 36 rushes, his 53-yard run down the sideline pulled out what could have been an embarrassing defeat. Howard's strength of running after contact made all the difference, and the Bears blocked the outside zone well all game.
According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, Howard is becoming one of the toughest running backs in the NFL and he always seems to find a way to produce. He's got a tough matchup against the Panthers this week, but will be a low-end RB1 again.
According to the Sports Xchange, Cohen continues to dance a bit too much and his lost fumble helped fuel Baltimore's comeback. ...
Running back Benny Cunningham (neck) left Sunday's win and did not return. Cunningham had been returning kicks in addition to backing up Howard and Cohen.
With the Bears living in two-tight end sets and running the ball with authority, Wright was on the field for 29 percent of the team's plays. Tanner Gentry (95 percent) and Tre McBride (71 percent) started Sunday's game at wideout and led the way in playing time, but neither caught a pass.
Tight end Dion Sims led the team in targets with four of Trubisky's 16 attempts.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, Kerrith Whyte Jr.
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley
TEs: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
According to the Sports Xchange, the Bengals feel better about themselves coming out of the bye week and leading up to Sunday's AFC North division clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
The offense is humming under new coordinator Bill Lazor and the defense is ranked among the league's best in several categories. The Bengals have won two straight games after starting the season 0-3, but there's work left to be done.
The bye week gives teams a chance to get healthy. There was both good news and bad news on that front for the Bengals after the break.
The bad news came late last week when Pro-Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert was placed on injured reserve, effectively ending his season. Eifert is expected to undergo surgery to repair a herniated disk that has caused him to miss the past three games. Injuries are nothing new for the former Notre Dame star, who will have missed 41 possible games in his career by the time this season ends.
Eifert established himself as one of quarterback Andy Dalton's primary targets following a breakout season in 2015 when he had 52 catches for 615 and 13 touchdowns. Eifert made the Pro Bowl that year, but suffered an ankle injury in Hawaii and hasn't been able to stay healthy for extended periods since then. He had four catches for 46 yards this season.
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell suggested, it's probably time for the Bengals and Eifert to part ways. There's likely a reason the Bengals, who saved salary-cap room to sign Eifert and Vontaze Burfict to potential extensions, reached a new deal with Burfict but quietly moved on to the season without an extension for Eifert.
The Bengals, perhaps more than most teams, always have one eye on the future. It's why they were interested in tight end O.J. Howard in the draft this year. There was always the possibility that it wouldn't work out with Eifert.
If Eifert were to hit the open market, another team in need of a tight end might be more likely to take that risk. In an ideal world, Eifert would have been able to turn his dazzling training camp performance this summer into another big season, but that never materialized.
The Bengals were smart enough to add depth at the position two years ago when Tyler Kroft was drafted in the third round out of Rutgers and C.J. Uzomah was a fifth-round choice from Auburn. With both Eifert and Uzomah battling injuries, Kroft has taken full advantage of his opportunity with 14 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging nearly 10 yards per catch.
If Kroft isn't the answer, they can look at a tight end in the draft again. Eifert can use this time to get healthy without the pressure of a deadline and look for a team that could be a good fit.
Some good news came Monday when rookie wide receiver John Ross, who was drafted ninth overall in the first round of this year's draft, returned to practice on a limited basis for the first time in two weeks. Ross had been inactive for four of the Bengals' five games due to a knee injury. Ross' status for Sunday's game at Pittsburgh is uncertain since he had yet to practice with the first team.
"It just feels good," Ross told Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson Monday. "It felt really good. I feel fast. I always feel fast. I got out there and had a chance to run."
Ross fumbled his only touch, a 12-yard end-around on Sept. 14 against the Texans. He hasn't seen the field since. But, with Tyler Boyd also dealing with a knee injury - he did not practice on Monday - the Bengals could use some depth at wide receiver on Sunday. Rookie Josh Malone could be active for the first time this year, or they could summon the speedy Ross to give the Pittsburgh secondary something else to focus on aside from A.J. Green.
Dalton has a 116.2 rating during Lazor's three weeks at the helm and the Bengals' defense ranks in the top three in the league in sacks, yards, and points allowed. A win over Pittsburgh (4-2) would put Cincinnati back in the AFC North and playoff conversation. Cornerback Adam Jones, who is dealing with a back injury, was the only other notable Bengal out of practice on Monday.
"I think the bye week helped a lot," Ross said. "Not just for me, but for everyone. I got a chance to really recover and heal up well and it felt good today.
On last note here. ... The rushing attack under Lazor remains a work in progress. The Bengals are averaging 3.2 yards per carry. Rookie Joe Mixon has seen his carries increase substantially in recent weeks, but even he is gaining just 2.8 yards per attempt.
Cincinnati has only one rushing touchdown this season, and Mixon is the only Bengals running back with more than 100 yards rushing through five weeks. He has 187.
Still, Jeremy Hill has been getting an increasingly small share of the snaps, and that shouldn't change. As Terrell notes, Mixon is still going to have to split snaps with Giovani Bernard, but he'll get the majority of the snaps going forward, as has been the case for the past few weeks.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine
WRs: Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Damion Willis, Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, A.J. Green, John Ross
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon wrote early this week: "Now what?
"Now what for a team that was supposed to use this season to set a foundation for future success but instead has dug itself a deep hole?
"This Cleveland Browns season has disintegrated into a morass filled with mistakes and bad play -- with the team hitting a new low each week. Sunday's low was an embarrassing 33-17 loss to the Texans that was worse than the score indicates. The team that went 1-15 a year ago changed defensive coordinators, changed schemes, added draft picks and changed quarterbacks.
"Sunday, that team fell to 0-6. ..."
McManamon went on to note the front office and coaching staff handpicked by owner Jimmy Haslam that took over a 3-13 team after the 2015 season has somehow turned it into something worse. Haslam's regime, guided by executive vice president Sashi Brown and coach Hue Jackson, has now gone 1-21 over the past two seasons.
Haslam has vowed to maintain continuity and not fall into the pit of starting over, which can delay cohesion and success. But success is nowhere in sight.
Haslam also has to sell something to his fan base. The front office, the coaching staff and the team on the field have provided nothing to sell.
Jackson promised the team would not go through another season in 2017 like it did in '16.
He was right about one thing: It's not the same. It's worse.
Jackson chose to insert Kevin Hogan at quarterback, and he chose to ignore all the questions that were asked about Deshaun Watson doing so well for the Texans after Houston drafted him with a pick acquired from the Browns. Watson had two touchdown passes and a 128.6 passer rating in the first half. A second-half interception dropped his rating to 103.4.
Jackson's reasoning in switching to Hogan was Hogan provided a better chance to win. Instead, as the Sports Xchange suggested, "the second-year player from Stanford showed why he was fourth on the depth chart when training camp began."
Hogan threw three interceptions in the first half, then added a safety in the second half when he threw the ball into the ground while being sacked in the end zone. He didn't top 100 yards passing until 7:50 was left in the game, and he didn't get the offense in the end zone until 1:03 was left and things had long since been decided.
Jackson also talked proudly all week about the defense, which entered the game ranked fifth in the league. That's by yardage. The same defense also had given up a league-high 87 points in the first half, and added 24 to the total Sunday. (Though seven of those came on a pick-six.)
So now what?
What does the defense do after giving up 33 points? Where does the offense find playmakers? What do the Browns do to find some way to get a single, solitary stinking win?
"This team has collapsed," McManamon summed up, "and it has collapsed in on itself with a new system that was supposed to be innovative but instead has become insulting. ..."
And aside from Duke Johnson, there's not much here for fantasy owners to rely on in terms of consistent production.
And what about the quarterback?
Well, DeShone Kizer's time on the sidelines didn't last long.
Jackson named Kizer the starter for Sunday's game against the Titans on Wednesday.
It makes sense. If the Browns are going to have a young quarterback out there struggling with a sub-par supporting cast, it might as well be their possible quarterback of the future.
The Browns need to know if Kizer can be the guy with a big, QB-rich draft coming up in 2018.
Jackson said told reporters on Monday that Kizer learned a lot from standing on the sidelines Sunday, and will be better for it when he returns to action.
He said "I think he'll be a little more team-protecting," in terms of not throwing red zone interceptions and "I think he'll demand more from the guys around him."
In his five starts, Kizer tumbled to the bottom of the NFL with a 49.5 rating. He was also last in the league with a 50.9 completion percentage and had thrown a league-high nine interceptions.
Positives coming out of Sunday's game?
The Browns sustained no injuries in their game with the Texans, Jackson said on Monday. ...
In addition, the Browns had success running the ball for a second straight week.
That is an encouraging sign if they ever get to a point where the score is still close in the fourth quarter. Running back Isaiah Crowell rushed 12 times for 58 yards - a modest total, but he hit the hole with more authority than he showed in past games this season. Although his three-game touchdown streak ended, Johnson was elusive running five times for 40 yards.
The run blocking has improved steadily the last three weeks.
Kenny Britt (knee/groin) missed his second consecutive game. With Corey Coleman on injured reserve with a broken hand, it means the Browns played without their Week 1 starting receivers for the second consecutive week.
Britt was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Zane Gonzalez kicked a 41-yard field goal in the first quarter to tie the game, 3-3. It was a pressure kick even though it was early because he missed his only two field-goal tries last week.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton, Garrett Gilbert
RBs: Nick Chubb, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson, Kareem Hunt
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Taywan Taylor, Damion Ratley, Derrick Willies
TEs: Demetrius Harris, Ricky Seals-Jones, Pharaoh Brown, David Njoku
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
The Dallas Cowboys return from the bye trying to settle things down and get back on track after a disappointing start and a week of drama.
The team is below .500 with a 2-3 record.
According to the Sports Xchange, owner Jerry Jones didn't help moral in the locker room by becoming the first owner in the NFL to declare he'd discipline players who protested during the national anthem.
They had two team meetings and Jones met with the players to discuss the matter. They seem to be back on the same page.
And then on the field, the Cowboys said goodbye to two opening-day starters. Cornerback Nolan Carroll was cut and nose tackle Stephen Paea retired, although he was officially placed on reserve/injured.
And then the Cowboys got the news they have been dreading all along as running back Ezekiel Elliott waws officially put on the suspended list after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted an injunction that had blocked the suspension.
Not surprisingly, Elliott's attorneys leapt to action. And they were successful.
Elliott is back off suspension.
A U.S. District judge in the Southern District of New York granted Elliott a temporary restraining order request Tuesday regarding his six-game suspension. Elliott is eligible to play against the 49ers this weekend.
In his ruling, Judge Paul A. Crotty writes that Elliott's temporary restraining order is in effect until either Oct. 30 or the disposition of the motion for a preliminary injunction by Judge. Katherine P. Failla.
"It means he does play this week and now there is once again a clock on Ezekiel Elliott," NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported. "Here is as it is explained to me: Zeke Elliott will have this temporary restraining order in effect for either 14 days or until there is a hearing in front of Judge Katherine P. Failla."
" ... So it certainly seems for the time being that Ezekiel Elliott will remain on the football field for the Dallas Cowboys. What happens now, of course, impossible to predict but at the least he will get a hearing to keep his suspension at bay a little bit longer."
Elliott plays this week. And likely next week. And perhaps beyond. ...
Or not beyond.
A suspension still seems to be something fantasy owners want to prepare for just in case.
All indications are the Cowboys would move forward with the committee of running backs, comprised of Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden.
Depending on who you believe, Morris would be the starter with Smith handling third downs and McFadden spelling Morris. But Bryan Broadus, of the team's official website, believes McFadden would take over the starting role in Elliott's absence.
But again, Elliott is locked in to play this week.
And so, of course, is quarterback Dak Prescott, who has been very good through the first five games.
Prescott had arguably the best rookie season by a quarterback in league history a year ago. He threw for 3,667 yards with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's on pace for 35 touchdown passes and more than 3,800 passing yards, along with 400 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Said head coach Jason Garrett: "He's playing really well. He's really doing everything we ask him to do. He makes so many plays within the scheme, throwing the ball to the right guy on a consistent basis. And then when things break down, making great plays with his feet and his arm out of the pocket."
So Prescott has been great with 1,192 passing yards and 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions. But the line has not been as good in pass protection and his receivers have been a disappointment. Dez Bryant has 21 catches for 264 yards and no 100-yard receiving games. Cole Beasley, the leading receiver of a year ago, has 15 receptions for 109 yards and has not been the third-down converter of a year ago.
The Cowboys have scored more than 30 points in the past two games. That would have been enough to win 15 of their 16 regular-season games last year. The defense has to be able to shut down teams when given double-digit leads, and create takeaways. Getting All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee back, after two games out with a hamstring injury, should help the defense get its edge back.
Rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis has flashed promise early on and will continue to get more and more playing time. The Cowboys liked what they've seen from him enough to release Carroll. Lewis' play will give the Cowboys flexibility to give rookie cornerback Chidobe Awuzie more time at safety, a position that hasn't flourished early on with veterans Byron Jones and Jeff Heath.
Look for Awuzie to get more time in place of Heath.
One last note. ... Kicker Dan Bailey has made 7 of 7 field goals. He is automatic.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, Ventell Bryant
TEs: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton pointed out, the Denver Broncos were struggling on offense even when they were healthy. Now, they'll have to navigate a spate of injuries to their quarterback, two receivers and two tackles.
Trevor Siemian briefly left the Broncos' 23-10 loss to the Giants on Sunday night after jamming his left (non-throwing) shoulder while trying to make a diving tackle on cornerback Janoris Jenkins' pick-6 just before the half.
"He's tough, mentally and physically," wide receiver Bennie Fowler said. "We know he'll be ready on Sundays."
Siemian's MRI on Monday showed no ill effects from the injury but he'll be without several teammates next week when the Broncos (3-2) visit the Los Angeles Chargers (2-4).
Wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie sustained what appeared to be serious right ankle injuries Sunday night, although head coach Vance Joseph would only say Monday that they'll miss the next game and will be listed as week-to-week after that.
"Sprains can come in all different levels. But it's a sprain. It's as sprain with both guys. I think Isaiah is a little bit less of a sprain than Emmanuel," Joseph said.
Both Sanders and McKenzie were on crutches and in a walking boot Monday.
"I'm very fortunate that it wasn't more serious," said McKenzie, a speedy rookie from Georgia who is also the Broncos' primary punt returner. "Hopefully I can be back next week or the week after that."
Joseph said he's hopeful receiver/returner Cody Latimer (knee) will return this week.
In the meantime, the Broncos signed wide receiver Hunter Sharp on Wednesday. Sharp signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent and was among the final cuts the team made in September. He had six catches for 92 yards and a touchdown during the preseason.
Also out Sunday is Billy Turner, who underwent surgery on Monday to fix a broken right hand he suffered while playing in relief of starting right tackle Menelik Watson (calf) on Sunday night. Turner has been placed on IR.
Watson is day to day but if he's unable to go, Joseph is unsure who would replace him against the Chargers.
"All options will be explored," Joseph said, noting that tackle Donald Stephenson is available as is guard Allen Barbre, who "has played right tackle in his career. We have some options there."
The Broncos bumbled their way through a game just about everyone expected them to control. They didn't get into the end zone until their 12th drive when third-year tight end Jeff Heuerman caught his first career TD pass with four minutes remaining.
That ended a streak of 20 drives without a touchdown stretching to Denver's 16-10 win over Oakland two weeks ago.
After putting up 42 points on the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, the Broncos have scored a total of 42 since that Sept. 17 game.
Joseph was stumped trying to decipher what went wrong Sunday night.
As the Sports Xchange notes, the Broncos had 146 more yards than the Giants and eight more first downs, but frittered the game away with three turnovers, including a Siemian interception that cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned for a touchdown just before halftime.
Siemian has now thrown six interceptions against eight touchdowns so far this season, and the Broncos have averaged 1.8 giveaways per game, worse than all but six teams. The Broncos have also struggled to convert red-zone opportunities, scoring touchdowns on just two of their last 11 forays inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
"His decision making has been half-and-half in my opinion," Joseph said. "We have some big plays that we've missed and he's made some nice plays under pressure. It's half and half. It hasn't been perfect, I won't lie and tell you that it's perfect. He understands that he has to play better in spots, we have to protect better in spots and we have to run the football better. That's our formula."
It's a formula that vanished Sunday.
The Giants stacked the box, and the Broncos failed to generate the wide holes that they created in Weeks 1-4 for C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who mustered just 36 yards on 14 carries between them. The mounting deficit and the Giants' ability to win at the line of scrimmage forced the Broncos away from the ground game, preventing them from doing what they did best during their 3-1 start.
And with the run defense struggling for the first time all season, the Broncos' hopes evaporated.
The Broncos entered the game with just one notable injury -- Latimer's sprained knee -- and were facing a Giants team that had lost a veteran cornerback to suspension, three receivers to season-ending surgeries and a half-dozen starters to injuries.
"It was a big game for us, a chance to go 4-1. It's a nationally televised game versus an opponent that struggled," Joseph said. "It's early. It's a hard league. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy out for us. We have a chance Sunday to play the L.A. Chargers and be 3-0 in our division."
This time, they'll be the ones rallying around their injured teammates and navigating adversity, including a defense that has only produced four takeaways and a kicking game that continues to deflate the sideline.
Brandon McManus missed two more kicks Sunday, giving him five misses for the season. That matches the number he missed all last season.
Joseph said his faith in McManus is unshaken because of his work ethic.
"I've seen the guy make every kick in practice. Obviously, that hasn't translated to the games," Joseph said. "He's a worker and he will work himself out of this in my opinion. He's a talent, too. So, he has to get back to getting in rhythm. ..."
A few final notes here. ... Demaryius Thomas suffered a lower leg bruise Sunday, but returned to action and is expected to play against the Chargers next week. He had a season-best 10 catches for 133 yards against the Giants.
Thomas was not practicing Wednesday and I'll be following up on his status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Paxton Lynch is expected to continue his throwing sessions this week as he ramps up for an eventual return from a sprained right shoulder suffered on Aug. 26.
Tight end TE Jake Butt will begin practicing this week. The rookie has been on the non-football injury list because of a torn ACL suffered in the Orange Bowl last December. The Broncos will have 21 days to decide whether to activate him or leave him on the non-football injury list for the rest of the season.
OLB Shane Ray will return to the practice field this week after being out since the third day of training camp because of torn wrist ligaments. He is expected to be activated from injured reserve in time to play against the Chiefs on Oct. 30.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen
RBs: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, Juwann Winfree, Diontae Spencer
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Larry Lage, the Lions made so many mistakes at New Orleans they ruined a chance to go into a bye week with a win that would have put them in a tie atop the NFC North.
Statistically, the Lions rank among the NFL's highest-scoring teams at nearly 27 points per game. But as the Sports Xchange pointed out, anyone who has watched them play of late knows that number is no indication of how poorly the offense has performed.
Matthew Stafford had five turnovers, three of which the Saints returned for scores, and Detroit gave up more than 200 yards to running backs in a 52-38 loss Sunday.
Detroit hadn't given up that many points since 2007, when it allowed the Eagles to score 56 points in a lopsided victory.
"I'm as much concerned with the turnovers that we had that cost us points as anything," head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. "It's really the yards on the ground, obviously, we're concerned about."
Mark Ingram ran for 114 yards and Alvin Kamara had 75 yards rushing, both more than doubling their previous season highs. New Orleans' running backs also combined for 48 yards receiving.
Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes to help the Saints surge ahead 45-10 midway through the fourth quarter before Detroit rallied to give itself an opportunity to pull off quite a comeback.
The Lions scored 28 straight points to pull within seven only to have one of 16 deflected passes turn into a third defensive TD for the Saints, helping them seal the wild win.
"Just got to find a way to get it through," Stafford said.
The quarterback was referring to throwing passes around or over defenders, but he could have said the same about the Lions' injury situation.
"We are banged up," Stafford said. "We got to have guys find a way to get back healthy as soon as possible."
Stafford played with an injured right ankle for a second straight week and should benefit from the team's bye week before competing again Oct. 29 at home against Pittsburgh. He also appeared to hurt his ribs, but Caldwell didn't have to give an update and chose not to for reporters.
"You'll have to wait a week whenever the report comes back out again and we're obligated to give one," Caldwell said.
Golden Tate, who had a 45-yard TD reception at New Orleans, left the game with a shoulder injury. Safety Glover Quin was knocked out of the game with a head injury in the second half.
Offensive tackle Greg Robinson limped off the field in the third quarter with an ailing ankle. Offensive tackle Rick Wagner was in and out of the game with an ankle injury.
And guard T.J. Lang was scratched from the lineup a little more than 90 minutes before the game began because of a back injury.
"I've been dealing with back injuries the last couple of weeks," Lang said. "I took a hit in Minnesota and it's kind of been on and off. It was just bad timing. I was warming up for the game and getting loose and I had a setback."
Caldwell sounded and looked relieved he doesn't have to put a team on the field for nearly two weeks, saying there's no doubt the timing is good.
"If we were playing a Thursday game it'd be really tough," he said. "If we were playing a Sunday game, it might be even fairly tough."
Left tackle Taylor Decker, who had shoulder surgery in the offseason, is eligible to practice this week. Decker declined comment Monday and Caldwell said a decision hadn't been made yet regarding his return.
The Lions desperately need Decker to return to bolster a unit that has allowed Stafford to get sacked 17 times the past three weeks.
Whatever the case, the Lions have the off week to figure out what when wrong. And Caldwell said Monday that he's OK with that.
"Sometimes festering's a good thing," the coach told the Detroit Free Press. "So we try to balance it. Kind of depends on where we are as a team, how we see it and we adjust it in that regard. But there's nothing wrong with being really determined about making certain you correct your errors. So it just kind of depends on the week. When you've got one right away, you certainly try to get it behind you within a relatively short period of time. This particular week, it's not a bad thing that we need to be concerned about a whole lot of things, in terms of how we're playing."
For the record, Tate is likely to miss a few weeks, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. An MRI will reveal the full extent of the injury.
Tate is leading the Lions with 36 catches and 363 receiving yards.
Tate and Marvin Jones did have impressive touchdown catches (and Jones had 14 targets), but Stafford had 12 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and most of his season-high 312 yards came in garbage time.
Several Saints players said they saw on film that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was susceptible to having passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage because of the Lions' poor offensive line and dink-and-dunk play-calling.
Caldwell insisted Monday that the Lions' offense has not become too predictable.
"We've played a lot games around here within the same system and it was just unusual," Caldwell said. "Just unfortunate, and they were all different ways that they had them. Maybe it was a lineman didn't cut his guy, his hands got up, he's supposed to get him on the ground, maybe it was a launch angle, those kinds of things. So it was a lot of different scenarios, but the great thing about it, even though it was difficult, and it wasn't pretty, and we're not happy with it, it's correctable. So, we'll go to work on that."
The Lions ran for just 66 yards on 19 carries, but it's tough to judge their ground game considering the 35-point hole they dug. Ameer Abdullah had a 34-yard run early in the second quarter, but just 20 yards on 13 other carries. He didn't have much running room in the first quarter, when the game was still tight. Zach Zenner was stopped for no gain on his lone carry on a third-and-short play, and Theo Riddick, who finished the game with seven touches (five catches and two carries) for 53 yards from scrimmage, remains a non-factor as a runner.
Kenny Golladay took some practice reps this week but still couldn't go with his hamstring injury. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, as long as he hasn't fallen behind in his absence, Golladay will take the No. 3 job back from TJ Jones, who saw nine targets in New Orleans.
And finally. ... One of the last players the Lions cut before finalizing their 53-man roster is now back in Detroit.
The Lions claimed quarterback Brad Kaaya off waivers from the Panthers, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Genaro C. Armas suggested, the sullen expression that Aaron Rodgers had on his face while being carted back to the locker room at Minnesota proved to be a precursor to the diagnosis that no one on the Green Bay Packers wanted to hear.
Head coach Mike McCarthy knew pretty quickly that this was one injury that the two-time NFL MVP could not shake off.
McCarthy said that Rodgers will have surgery on his broken right collarbone. The rest of Rodgers' season is in jeopardy.
"He'll be out a minimum, a significant amount of time -- potentially the season could be over," the coach said on Monday.
"So, he'll have surgery here in the near future and after we see how that goes, we'll focus on getting Aaron healthy. That's all that really matters right now."
Rodgers landed on his throwing shoulder after being taken down by linebacker Anthony Barr during an incompletion on the second drive for the Packers in the 23-10 loss to the Vikings on Sunday.
"We all knew -- (quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt) and myself, when we talked to him immediately, I knew he was injured," McCarthy said. "I think he knew right away."
Backup Brett Hundley is now the starting quarterback. A fifth-round draft pick of the Packers in 2015, Hundley went 18 of 33 for 157 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in relief of Rodgers.
The Packers promoted third-stringer Joe Callahan from the practice squad to back up Hundley, placing cornerback Quinten Rollins on injured reserve with an ankle injury to open up a roster spot.
Callahan has had a couple of other stints on the Packers' active roster after joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
McCarthy said the team's personnel department is looking at some free agent quarterbacks as a way to help in practice.
But do not expect the Packers to bring in former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
"Did you just listen to the question I just answered?" McCarthy said angrily to a reporter's question about whether the team would look at Kaepernick.
"I've got three years invested in Brett Hundley, two years invested in Joe Callahan. The quarterback room is exactly where it needs to be, OK? We're committed to the path that we're on."
A focused and sometimes feisty McCarthy also voiced his displeasure with Barr's hit on Rodgers, who was outside the pocket at the time.
McCarthy was just as passionate talking about corrections to what he called the team's mental mistakes at Minnesota.
Otherwise, he is trying to quickly switch the focus to the future, moving up the start of players' preparations for the next opponent, the New Orleans Saints, up by two days to Monday. Usually the Packers focus on corrections from the previous game on Mondays.
Maligned by injuries across the team, especially the offensive line, the Packers must get Hundley ready for his first NFL start under already challenging circumstances.
"I'm not going to say it's going to stay the same. It's not going to. But that's part of the deal," center Corey Linsley said.
"When somebody new comes in there, regardless if it's Brett or another offensive linemen or another receiver, whoever it is has to make that adjustment."
McCarthy added it's on him to get the third-year quarterback into a better rhythm and the other 10 players on the field to play up to the team's standards.
"I've got to do a better job. I've got to get Brett into a flow," McCarthy said. "But more importantly we need to get our offense in a flow. We didn't run the ball very well yesterday. Pass protections was a negative. We didn't handle basic blitzes that they came with. So we need to get that shored up and then the pass game will then come. We've got to play cleaner football. "
Indeed, as ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky noted, it's Hundley's offense now, and it's McCarthy's job to customize it to the Green Bay Packers' new starting quarterback.
Perhaps more important than the on-field reps will be how McCarthy builds a game plan for his new quarterback, and injuries on the offensive line -- where three of the five starters dropped out of Sunday's game -- will factor in as well.
Demovsky went on to explain that Hundley is similar to Rodgers in the way he moves; both are athletic enough to make plays outside the pocket. But every quarterback has favorite routes and concepts, so the offense may take on a new identity.
"Aaron likes certain things, I like certain things," Hundley said. "It is what it is. We're able to talk about that, obviously during the week, especially when Aaron's healthy, he takes all of it and we game plan with Aaron."
That's why it's so much harder for a backup quarterback to jump in on a moment's notice than it is for most other position players.
"You've just sort of got to make it work on the field when we go in there," Hundley said.
Perhaps McCarthy will go back to the summer of 2015, when Hundley played well enough in the preseason as a rookie to lead the NFL in exhibition passing yards (630). He threw seven touchdowns and only one interception that summer.
"It's important for us to make sure that Brett has the opportunity to have a game plan for Brett," receiver Randall Cobb said. "This game plan was obviously for Aaron. With him, we had to go to some of the base calls and do some different things up front. We'll go back to the drawing boards now."
Hundley's touchdown-to-interception ratio (one touchdown, three interceptions) won't cut it, especially when the Packers are used to someone so careful with the football. Rodgers has the best TD-to-INT ratio (4.1, 301 to 75) in NFL history. Two of Hundley's interceptions on Sunday came on deflected passes, but they were turnovers nonetheless.
"I need to do a better job as a play caller putting him in better position to be successful," McCarthy said.
Of all the things they'll miss without Rodgers, perhaps none is more difficult to replicate than his ability to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, whether it's with play calls or cadence to get the defense to jump offside.
"Aaron's been calling the adjustments, they're sort of on the same page, so when I'm out there it's a little slower, maybe a little bit trickier," Hundley said. "But we made some good adjustments. There are some things we didn't communicate well and we'll fix those. This week will help us a lot going into next week, especially with the preparation that I get to take with the offense."
That's perhaps the best thing the Packers had to hang their hats on as they headed home, that everything will revolve around Hundley this week.
"I'll feel a lot better, I can tell you that much," Hundley said. "It's different as a backup when you don't get any reps during the week and then you're sort of out there. But we've got to prepare that way and that's the way that I've been preparing as the starter week in and week out. So it'll be a little different this week, actually get the reps and get the walk-through with our offense. So it'll for sure be better and we'll have some fun."
One thing is certain, the playbook shrunk after Rodgers left last Sunday. McCarthy became much more conservative. And Green Bay finished with its fewest number of points in the last 28 games.
I'll be watching closely for indications of how the offense will evolve in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Aaron Jones led the Packers backfield with 41 rush yards on 13 carries and added one catch for one yard on four targets. Overall, it was not a productive day for the Packers offense, for a lot of reasons. The matchup against the Vikings in Minnesota was far from favorable. And when Rodgers was carted off the field after just four pass attempts, the bottom fell out of the Green Bay offense.
The other storyline here is the return of Ty Montgomery after a few weeks off with broken ribs.
Montgomery "started" the game, taking the first snap for the Packers, but he was far out-snapped by Jones by a count of 42 to 20 and the rookie was the team's lead back from a volume standpoint, and Franciscovich believes it's not out of the question for that to continue.
There's reason to believe Montgomery isn't yet 100 percent healthy, and that could limit his upside for a few weeks. Add to it the absence of Rodgers, and Franciscovich suggests all fantasy assets in the Packers offense take a blow in terms of value, including the backfield.
Adding to the woes, left tackle David Bakhtiari, who missed Weeks 2-5 with a hamstring injury, made his return Sunday but only lasted until the third quarter when he aggravated the injury.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed three of the first five games of 2017 with an ankle injury. He suffered a concussion during Sunday's game and will now be in the concussion protocol this week.
LG Lane Taylor was rolled up on and left the game with knee and ankle injuries.
"I don't think (it's) anything too serious," Taylor said. "But we'll check it out and see how it turns out."
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Tra Carson, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
In case you haven't been paying attention, Deshaun Watson has Houston's offense running like never before.
A 33-17 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday gave them 30 or more points in four straight games for the first time in franchise history. It was Houston's fourth straight game where the offense gained 340 yards or more.
But the Texans are 3-3 entering their bye this week, leaving plenty of room for improvement in the last 10 games as they chase a third straight playoff berth.
"We have a lot to work on," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "I think the bye's coming at a good time. I think it's been decent, but I think that it can be a lot better."
As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken reminded readers, Tom Savage started Houston's opener against Jacksonville before being benched at halftime of the loss. Watson, the 12th overall pick in this year's draft, has gone 3-2 in his five starts since and has already put his mark on the offense.
At 22 years old, Watson has quickly emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.
He's completing 61.5 percent of his throws for 1,297 yards. He's rushed for 202 yards and two scores since replacing Savage.
His three touchdown passes Sunday gave him 15 this season, which is tied with Kurt Warner and Mark Rypien for the most touchdown passes by any quarterback in his first six games. It's the most through the first six games by a rookie in NFL history. He's also the first rookie in league history to throw three touchdown passes in three straight games.
The Texans simply have never had a rookie quarterback anywhere near as productive as Watson. Prior to Watson, Houston's rookie quarterbacks had 12 touchdown passes combined between David Carr (nine) and T.J. Yates (three).
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop pointed out, last season, Texans quarterbacks Brock Osweiler and Savage threw a combined 15 touchdown passes in 16 games.
But it goes beyond the production.
"He's a very confident guy," O'Brien said of Watson. "He's got a quiet confidence about himself. He's just the same guy every day. He really believes in himself. He's a very intelligent guy. He's really never satisfied ... he's a great guy to coach. Just a really special kid and I think he'll only get better and better."
Watson said he'll use the bye to study and rest a little so he can be better when the Texans visit the Seahawks on Oct. 29.
"I'm never complacent," he said. "I'm always striving to be the best and striving to improve on my game."
Receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has suffered through years of struggles at quarterback, raves about Watson every chance he gets. He isn't surprised that the young QB has been so successful so early in his career.
"I expected that honestly," Hopkins said. "From training camp when he came in, the way he handled himself in the film room. Even in training camp when he wasn't getting reps with the ones, he was still learning. He was still going over things talking about it to us when he got the opportunity, (and now) it's presented itself, so nobody in this locker room was honestly surprised with the way he's developed so far."
His performance has been helped by the work of receiver Will Fuller in the last three weeks. The second-year player missed the first three games after breaking his collarbone in training camp, but has caught five touchdown passes since his return after finishing with two last season. Fuller says he's stronger than he was as a rookie and that he's learned a lot in his second year in the system.
"Just playing smarter," Fuller said. "I feel like I say that a lot. It's my second year, so I know a lot more about defenses and how they're going to try to play. I think that's the biggest thing. Playing smarter so I can play faster."
Watson, who joined the Texans after winning a national championship at Clemson last year, loves having so many weapons at his disposal. He has thrown touchdown passes to six players, led by six to Hopkins.
"We are all on the same page," Watson said. "We all support each other. We're all rooting for each other, and it's no selfishness. ... We all just want to win and score points. So whoever gets open, depending on the scheme, what the defense is doing, and the play call, we're all supporting each other. Those guys are making me better and making me look good, so I appreciate them for getting open and catching the ball."
And they appreciate him.
"Every time we step on the field, we want to score," Hopkins said. "If we don't, then we're disappointed. We don't settle for three.
"We know with the ball in 4's [Watson's] hands, anything's possible."
As a matter of fact, the Texans are averaging 29.5 points, 11.5 more than they did through six games last season. They have averaged 34 points in the five games Watson has started.
It's something fantasy owners need to keep in mind going forward. ...
Meanwhile, sprinting away from defenders and displaying upgraded catching skills, wide receiver Will Fuller has emerged as a dangerous scoring threat.
Regardless of whether it's a long throw or in close quarters, Fuller has been nearly impossible to stop or contain.
Fuller has caught five touchdown passes in three games on eight receptions for 154 yards, scoring on 62.5 percent of his catches since returning from a broken collarbone that forced him to miss the first three games.
"I feel like I'm settling in pretty good coming off the long injury," Fuller said. "I was working before I got back so it was just a matter of time before I got back to my conditioning level and all that stuff."
A first-round draft pick from Notre Dame and the fastest player on the Texans' roster with a 4.28 time in the 40-yard dash, Fuller caught 47 passes for 635 yards and two scores last season. He struggled a bit with his hands, but has improved markedly in terms of fundamentals and strength this year.
"Just playing smarter," Fuller said. "It's my second year, so I know a lot more about defenses and how they're going to try to play. I think that's the biggest thing. Playing smarter so I can play faster. I feel like I'm a little stronger."
Averaging 19.3 yards per reception, Fuller has built a strong connection with Watson. Their timing is obvious.
"It's a lot of fun," Fuller said. "He has his own swag to him. He just keeps everything fun."
"[Fuller] just takes the top off," Watson said. "You have to respect that as a defense, so he's going to have a safety that plays deep or he's going to take two guys with him and it's going to create an opening in the defense. So being able to have a guy like that that can stretch the defense out and open up the underneath routes is big."
Watson's second touchdown was a shovel pass to wide receiver Braxton Miller, who flipped into the end zone for the score. Miller was active for the first time since Week 3 after being a healthy scratch for two consecutive games. Watson later found Hopkins, who had two catches for 19 yards, in the end zone for a 3-yard score in the third quarter.
Running backs D'Onta Foreman and Lamar Miller ran hard and picked up some key yards. The game plan was primarily to throw the ball.
Miller played 66 percent of Houston's snaps and remains the primary back for the Texans and has a favorable upcoming schedule following a Week 7 bye.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, Foreman enjoyed some volume in the second half, with eight of his 12 touches in the game coming after halftime. The rookie totaled 59 rush yards, over half of which came on a single 39-yard run in the second quarter. He had a couple of chances to score from inside the 5 yard-line but failed to convert the short yardage situation.
It was his fourth game this season with double-digit touches. Foreman remains a bench stash for now, but is one of the more valuable handcuffs in fantasy.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, Kahale Warring, Jerell Adams, Jordan Thomas
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
If the Colts have been consistent at anything this year, it has been at finding new ways to lose. Primarily in the second halves of games.
Against the Titans, even one of the most dependable players in league history chipped in, with kicker Adam Vinatieri missing an extra point. But between that and the dropped passes and the fumbles, it was another Colts collapse in the second half.
Via Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, the Colts are now last in the league in second-half point differential, at minus-80. In the fourth quarter alone, it's minus 63, as they have been outscored 85-22 in the final 15 minutes.
"We haven't played 60 minutes yet," outside linebacker John Simon said. "We kind of fall apart."
As Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt noted, when you consider they've only played six games (and won two of them, perhaps unbelievably), that means they're being outscored by more than 10 points per fourth quarter, the kind of late collapses that have defined their season so far.
And as ESPN.com's Mike Wells suggested, the excuses have gotten old.
After the first time it happens? Yeah, that's OK.
After the second and maybe third time it happens? That's fine too, but there's only so much more you want to listen to.
Now after a fourth and fifth time? That's inexcusable.
You thought early on that maybe this would be a short-term issue for the Colts. But as each week has passed, it has not only become a physical challenge for them, but it's also a matter of them being mentally soft because they have yet to fix the problem.
Wells added: "Mentally soft teams, especially those that have a fair share of young players getting playing time, don't have success.
"How else can you explain the Colts being 2-4 and sitting dead last in the AFC South?"
"Your record is what you are," linebacker John Simon said. "Right now, we're 2-4, and we need to change that."
Getting things turned around won't be easy for the Colts. The second-half problems are weighing on the players. They're saying all the right things, but their body language suggests something different. Players are dressing and leaving the locker room quicker, and the ones that are talking usually have to pause and collect their thoughts before speaking.
The Colts were expected to struggle this season, but how they've been struggling has been alarming. And the longer they continue to falter in the second half, the more likely things could fall apart for them.
"All the leaders, we have to keep everybody together," running back Frank Gore said. "It's not the other team, it's us. We have to start faster in the second half. Have to find a way to play 60 minutes of football. All the leaders the young guys look up to, we have to bring each other together and have to do it. It's been like this the last six games.
"Just have to find a way to do it. That's been all year. Every man has to look each other in the eye and find a way to come out in the second half and play like we play in the first half."
Head coach Chuck Pagano's postgame news conferences have become almost predictable as he continues to say it was a disappointing performance and they're going to keep working to get those issues fixed. The reality is, Pagano isn't helping his job status by saying that: He's the person responsible for getting his team prepared every week. The Colts have been outscored 88-25 in the fourth quarter and overtime this season. That's not a sign of team that wants to win; it's more of a sign of a mentally soft team that doesn't know how to.
"We have to figure it out," Pagano said. "We're 2-4, we know what our record is, we know the circumstances are, we've got 10 games to go. We have a short week and a home division game coming up [against the Jacksonville Jaguars]. We've got to figure it out in a hurry, and we'll keep working."
Of course, things might change when and if quarterback Andrew Luck returns to the field. But by that point, things may be so far gone for the Colts it won't matter. Since they haven't been closers in games so far, expecting them to be within the course of a season seems unfair regardless the quarterback.
That said, Jacoby Brissett started out strong, but struggled in the second half.
Brissett ended up completing 21-of-37 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown. Donte Moncrief hauled in five passes for 67 yards, but dropped a TD pass in the first half. T.Y. Hilton was limited to just one catch for 19 yards.
Jack Doyle added seven receptions for 50 yards and a TD but he also fumbled twice and dropped several other throws his way. Doyle had been one of the Colts' most dependable receivers the last two seasons. But the former Western Kentucky player has been inconsistent this season.
There were flashes of a good running game against the Titans. Gore and rookie Marlon Mack broke loose for runs of 12 and 22 yards. And Robert Turbin was as dependable as always in his short-yardage duties. But Turbin left the game in the fourth quarter with an elbow injury and did not return.
Pagano expects Turbin to miss rest of season due to that injury.
Mack saw limited playing time in the second half. He had only one offensive touch over the final two quarters.
And finally, on an even less positive note. ... General manager Chris Ballard told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that Luck has soreness in his shoulder and took a cortisone shot. This is a setback. No practice this week.
I'll obviously be following up when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly
RBs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, Deon Cain, Parris Campbell, Devin Funchess, Ashton Dulin
TEs: Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco noted this week, the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense has shown it is capable of carrying the offense and winning games. That's what it did Week 5 in Pittsburgh.
But asking it to carry the offense and overcome a rash of special teams mistakes as well is just unfair, which is what happened Sunday afternoon in the Jaguars' 27-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at EverBank Field.
It was another disappointing performance in that stadium, and it kept the Jaguars from winning back-to-back games for the first time in a year. The Jaguars are now a 9-29 since 2012 at home (not including games played in London or Mexico City). That's the worst mark in the NFL.
"In the NFL when you give up a that many points on [special] teams it's very difficult to win the game," head coach Doug Marrone said. "I thought we were trying to battle our way back in there but obviously that hurt. We weren't able overcome that, which is difficult to do in this league."
The Jaguars' special teams gave up 17 of the Los Angeles Rams' 27 points.
In addition, kicker Jason Myers missed a pair of 54-yard field goal attempts.
The limitations of the Jaguars' offense is well-documented, especially in the pass game.
Quarterback Blake Bortles has been a turnover machine in his career (an NFL-high 68 before Sunday since he entered the league in 2014). The loss of top receiver Allen Robinson to a torn ACL in the season opener left the Jaguars without a consistent downfield playmaker, and neither Marqise Lee nor Allen Hurns have been unable to make up for his loss. The tight end position has contributed only seven catches in the first five games.
The only bright spot has been rookie running back Leonard Fournette, but the Rams bottled him up pretty well after he scampered 75 yards for a touchdown on the Jaguars' first offensive snap.
That leaves the team -- the defense, especially -- with little to no margin for error.
The Jaguars have been able to get by with the defense carrying the offense. They picked off the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger five times and took two back for touchdowns last week, and Dante Fowler and Myles Jack have each returned fumbles for touchdowns this season.
It's clear by this point in the season that the Jaguars' success hinges on the defense. That's not going to be enough if it has to carry the special teams, too.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars expect Fournette to play in Week 7 against the Colts after the star rookie injured his ankle Sunday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
In fact, Marrone told Florida Times-Union staffer Ryan O'Halloran that Fournette was available to return for the final offensive series if needed.
"Initially, I was worried," Marrone said. "I thought it was [his] knee, but then [the report] came back and it was just an ankle."
Marrone said Fournette received a "spat" -- a new tape job over the pre-game tape applied.
"They said he could have gone back in the game," Marrone said. "That's encouraging."
Said Fournette: "I just twisted my ankle a little bit, that's all."
Replays suggested Fournette hyperextended his knee and he had to be helped off the field. Moments later, though, Fournette was testing his knee with short sprints and cuts near the Jaguars' bench. Fournette was likely lucky in that his leg slipped on the turf instead of his cleats sticking and adding torque to the knee.
Fournette does not usually play in the Jaguars' hurry-up offense (Chris Ivory takes those snaps) so he did not miss any potential rushing attempts.
"Any time your starting running back goes down, especially a guy that's been running the ball the way Leonard Fournette has, that sucks," Bortles said. "It's something you never want to see. It was good to see him back and taped up and ready to go so hopefully he can get well rested and ready to go."
Fournette ran for 130 yards against the Rams, including the above-mentioned 75-yard touchdown on the Jaguar's first offensive snap.
"It was a hard-fought game throughout," Fournette said. "As one of the leaders, I take fault. We got to come back and play better."
Fortunately, the Colts have struggled to finish games; the Jaguars will have ample opportunity to rebound. ...
For the record, the Jaguars announced on Wednesday morning that Fournette and Marqise Lee (knee) would be held out of practice Wednesday. I'll have more on both when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...
Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported on Tuesday the team cut Myers. Myers missed two field goals against the Rams, including a 54-yarder late in the game that would have cut the Jags' deficit to one score with time for an onside kick.
Myers was 11-of-15 on field goals on the season and missed one against the Jets in a game that Jacksonville would ultimately lose on a field goal in overtime. Myers was 53-of-64 on field goals in his first two seasons with Jacksonville and missed 12 extra points over his entire tenure.
Josh Lambo will be the new Jaguars kicker. He was 52-of-64 on field goals for the Chargers the last two seasons, but got beaten out by Younghoe Koo this summer. The Chargers have since cut Koo and signed Nick Novak. ...
Bortles threw for 241 yards by completing 23-of-35 passes (65.7 percent) with one touchdown and one interception. Normally those are good enough numbers for a team to win games, but not so in this contest. Bortles actually had one of his better games. The 23 completions were a season best as was the 65.7 completion percentage. The yardage total was only three yards shy of his season best of 244 in a win over Baltimore.
What really hurt was the five sacks.
That matched the number that the Jaguars had given up in the previous five games.
The Jaguars got good production on yards after the catch as most of Bortles' throws were of the short variety that receivers and Ivory in particular turned into double-digit gains. Ivory showed he can be an effective weapon in the passing game by latching on to nine of the 10 passes directed his way for a season-best of 74 yards. Seven different players caught at least one pass.
A 22-yard scoring catch marked Ivory's first of the 2017 season and his first receiving TD since Oct. 25, 2015. The receiving TD was the third receiving TD of his 87-game career and his 30th scrimmage TD.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Week 6 was Lee's second with double-digit targets. Allen Hurns has done that just once and has four games with four or fewer targets. If you're so inclined to chase trailing passing numbers in Jacksonville when they face good teams, Harmon adds that it appears Lee will get the volume.
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs, Phillip Walker, Nick Foles
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Tyler Ervin
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, Marqise Lee, CJ Board
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Seth DeValve, Josh Oliver, Ben Koyack, James O'Shaughnessy
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta framed it, "The sun had set on Arrowhead Stadium, to say nothing of Kansas City's perfect start, by the time Alex Smith and the banged-up Chiefs finally headed to their cars Sunday night.
"They don't have much time to recuperate.
"Mentally or physically. ..."
After getting dominated on both sides of the ball by the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 19-13 loss, the Chiefs have four days to flush it from their system.
They will head to California to face the AFC West-rival Oakland Raiders on Thursday night in a game that suddenly appears much more difficult.
"That's part of it," Smith said. "Coming off a physical game, you know you're going to have another big divisional game and travel. You got all those built-in excuses there to lean on."
That's where a little mental fortitude comes in.
The Chiefs (5-1) ran roughshod through the first five weeks of the season, dominating the Patriots on the road and dispatching everyone else with apparent ease.
Their offense was the best in the league, their defense was stingy and opportunistic, and even special teams were playing at such a high level that some began to wonder whether anybody could beat them.
There was certainly a profound sense of confidence in the Kansas City locker room, where rookie running back Kareem Hunt and wide receiver Tyreek Hill were getting plenty of national attention.
But if their egos were inflated, the Steelers did a brutally efficient job of deflating them.
The Chiefs stumbled for the first time offensively against the Steelers. They entered Week 6 as the highest-scoring team in the league, but in the first half they had just 6 yards, three points and one first down.
And when Hill finally got loose on a punt return late in the game, they laid such a lick on him that he was checked for a concussion.
"They say not to take anything personal," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said, "but when they run the ball like they did on us, you have to. Does this count for more than one loss? No, not at all. Should it light another fire? It will and we'll respond the right way."
That sounds like someone who intends to be mentally right by Thursday night in Oakland.
Getting right physically might prove to be a bigger challenge.
The Chiefs were without center Mitch Morse and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif again on Sunday, and the ailing offensive linemen could well be out against the Raiders.
The front line struggled without them as the Steelers stacked the box, springing Hunt for just 21 yards rushing.
Even more concerning is the pass-catching group.
Tight end Travis Kelce played after passing the league's concussion protocol last week, but he was not effective and his health remains in question.
The Chiefs were already down No. 2 wide receiver Chris Conley, who went on injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and played Pittsburgh without No. 3 wide receiver Albert Wilson, who was dealing with a knee injury throughout the week.
The good news?
If Hill had sustained a concussion, it would have been practically impossible for him to play against the Oakland Raiders. But Hill did not sustain a concussion. That notion was confirmed with Hill's listing on Monday's injury report.
Hill was listed as a full participant with a neck injury.
Running back Charcandrick West does have a concussion and he's been ruled out for Thursday night. Wilson is listed as questionable.
"There have been a few (injuries), but the next guys step up," head coach Andy Reid said. "We had some guys come in and do OK. That's what we expect, and then those guys, when they get healthy, they'll be back and we'll roll with them. The guys that are in, we expect them to play and play well."
I'll be following up on all involved with a focus on Wilson's status when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday.
In the meantime, Reid understands the uphill challenge that faces Kansas City this week. The schedule was released months ago, so he knew that a Thursday night game was looming.
That's why he delivered a simple message to his team in the postgame locker room Sunday night.
"It's a short turnaround, right back on it tomorrow," Reid said. "You have to heal up fast, use all the technology we have, take care of yourselves, rest and get ready for Monday and Tuesday and you're flying on Wednesday. That's part of the game you're dealt with."
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher notes, the Chiefs are 3-2 in Thursday night games under Reid. In 2014, they lost to the previously winless Raiders in a Thursday night game in Oakland after a physical home game the Sunday before against the Seattle Seahawks. The Chiefs, though, beat Seattle in that one. ...
Worth noting. ... Without Conley and Wilson, backup receivers De'Anthony Thomas and Demarcus Robinson saw dramatic increases in playing time. Both players earned the praise of offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, especially Thomas thanks to a 57-yard touchdown reception.
"He moved around pretty well and you saw with the touchdown catch making a good play and did some good things with the ball in his hands," Nagy said.
Robinson, a second-year receiver from Florida, saw the first substantial playing time in his career. He lined up for 49 of the team's 54 offensive snaps. Nagy said Robinson still has learning to do, especially in adjusting to the speed of the game and improving his timing with Smith.
"I think what you're going to see with Alex and Demarcus, as these games go by here and we just get more and more practices and games together, I think you're going to see that relationship between the two of them on the football field really grow," Nagy said.
The Chiefs promoted Marcus Kemp from the practice squad in Conley's place on Saturday, and the undrafted rookie free agent saw playing time immediately with eight offensive snaps. ...
But with West's status uncertain, the Chiefs have once again re-signed running back C.J. Spiller, sources told the Kansas City Star.
To make room for Spiller, the Chiefs waived Kemp.
Hunt never found traction against the Steelers defense, mustering a mere 21 yards on nine carries. The Chiefs rushed for minus-2 yards in the first half. Hunt did contribute to the passing game, catching five passes for 89 yards. That allowed him to claim sole possession of the record for most games starting a career with 100 or more yards from scrimmage at six. He previously shared the record of five games with Adrian Peterson.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Sammy Watkins
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Mike Williams only got 10 snaps in his debut with the Los Angeles Chargers, and he caught just one pass. The first-round pick from Clemson still savored his first chance to be on an NFL field.
"Little jitters, but once I saw the ball coming my way, I felt a little better," Williams said.
The rookie receiver loved it even more when his 15-yard catch contributed to the Chargers' fourth-quarter touchdown drive in a 17-16 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
"It was big," Williams said Monday after the Chargers returned home. "That's what coach (Anthony Lynn) was preaching the whole week. It was going to be a tough road game. We just had to go out there and fight to the end. That's what we did, and we've got two big road wins."
Indeed, the Chargers' relocation year is looking up after back-to-back victories that have erased some of the disappointment from an 0-4 start.
As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham suggested earlier this week, now they've just got to figure out how to do it at the NFL's smallest home stadium, where they still haven't won.
A team that struggled mightily to win close games over the past two seasons has suddenly won consecutive nail-biters heading into Sunday's visit from Denver, which beat the Chargers by three points on a last-minute blocked field goal in the season opener.
Los Angeles' defense largely did an outstanding job against Derek Carr and the Oakland offense, giving up just 274 yards and limiting the Raiders to two touchdown drives.
The Chargers' offense relied heavily on running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 83 yards and caught nine passes for 67 yards. Philip Rivers passed for 268 yards, but also threw no interceptions and took only one short sack.
Thanks to a herniated disk in his lower back from the first day of his rookie minicamp with the Chargers, Williams hadn't played in a game since last January, when he won the national championship in Clemson's victory over Alabama. When asked whether that game was more stressful than his NFL debut in the Black Hole, Williams laughed.
"I don't know, that national championship game was pretty intense," he said. "Alabama was pretty good. But that first NFL game, that's what you dream about as a kid, just to get the opportunity to be in the NFL and get a chance."
He'll get more chances this weekend: Lynn expects to increase Williams' workload steadily as the Chargers move toward their bye in two weeks. Williams and Rivers are still getting to know each other, so every snap will count.
"We wanted to get him 10 to 15 reps (in Oakland), and we got him 10," Lynn said. "This week, it may go up to 20 or 25. We'll work him into the rotation and get him going moving forward."
As a fellow first-round draft pick, Gordon has been in Williams' position before and understands the lofty expectations heaped on him.
Gordon said it was big that Williams contributed to the Chargers' second straight victory, and now he can start to get more comfortable in the Bolts' offense.
"It means a lot because I feel like Mike can be a great player for us in the near future," Gordon said. "I'm just happy he got in there and got his feet wet a little bit. He made a big catch for us.
"And it's little plays like that, that people sleep on, but that makes a big difference. And that's what I was telling him. I got in the end zone a couple times, but let's not forget the catches and the tough, third downs that we had to go through that others players got for us to be in that position. I appreciate Mike. First game and making a big catch like that, there's a lot of pressure."
While Williams isn't expected to play 60 snaps a game and be the Chargers' most targeted receiver, he does provide depth and will slowly work his way into the rotation of talented receivers for the Bolts.
"He was excited to get his first catch and his first action, in a division game on the road," Rivers said. "I know he's been in huge crowds his whole career and national championship games, but I think that was good for him.
"And now we can continue to mix him in and Keep Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams fresh. ..."
I'll be watching for more on what we can expect from the receiving rotation in coming days (watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more). ...
For what it's worth, Sunday's win was Rivers' 24th come-from-behind victory in his 14-year career. Rivers tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Gordon and finished with a 100.2 passer rating.
The come-from behind part is an issue.
As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams pointed out, the Chargers continue to struggle at the start of games on offense. The Bolts have been outscored 50-7 in the opening quarter through six games. That has to change. In the past, the Chargers have been led by their offense.
However, coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has to take a closer look at his scripted plays to open games.
That will be a challenge with the Chargers hosting AFC West rival the Broncos Sunday. ...
For the record, Gordon posted 150 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted a season-high 12 times as a receiver and hauled in nine catches for 67 yards and a score, while rushing for 83 and a touch on the ground. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it, "Gordon is the definition of a workhorse, as he played 89 percent of his team's snaps."
It's also his second straight game with at least 50 receiving yards.
Also. ... Hunter Henry's role continues to increase; the second-year tight end pulled in five passes for 90 yards on seven targets against the Raiders.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis, Andre Patton, Dontrelle Inman
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
The Los Angeles Rams are 4-2 for the first time since 2006 and have shown maturity, poise, resilience and massive coaching and personnel improvements to get there.
Most of which was on display when they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday to win remain undefeated (3-0) away from Los Angeles.
The offense struggled to put together consistent drives and managed just one touchdown and two field goals.
But as the Sports Xchange notes, a defense that's rapidly rounding back into form and a spectacular effort from the special teams was enough to balance out the offensive shortcomings.
That's the sign of a team that's transitioning back to NFL relevance after spending the last 13 years on the outside looking in while not positing one single winning season.
More and more, the Rams are looking like a complete team able to beat opponents a variety of different ways. Be it outgunning them, out-punching them or, as was the case Sunday, getting a huge lift from a special-teams unit that scored two touchdowns.
On an afternoon in which the offense wasn't clicking, another area of the team was available to step up.
"That is kind of exactly what I just said to a few teammates," said quarterback Jared Goff. "Obviously, you never want to do what we did offensively tonight. I don't know where we were on third down, but I know it wasn't very good. For the rest of the guys on the team to be able to pick us up and really win the game for us is the reason why we won tonight and the sign of a good team."
The Rams got a kickoff return for a touchdown and a blocked punt for a touchdown, a franchise first for one game. And after allowing the Jaguars to score 14 points and gain 159 yards from scrimmage on their first three drives, the Rams' defense held them to 230 yards and three points in their next 13 drives.
Their special teams accounted for 21 of the team's 27 points, with the two touchdowns and two field goals (including a 56-yarder) and three PATs by Greg Zuerlein.
Pharoh Cooper opened the game with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first of his career. The second-year receiver nearly went down around his own 20-yard line, but he regained his footing, hit some holes and sprinted up the sideline. The Jaguars answered quickly, getting that 75-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette and, later, a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-10 lead.
But the Rams answered with what would be their only offensive touchdown of the afternoon, when Goff pitched to rookie tight end Gerald Everett -- lined up tight with the formation -- for a 4-yard touchdown run. Near the two-minute warning before halftime, backup linebacker Cory Littleton got free and blocked a punt by Brad Nortman, with backup running back Malcolm Brown scooping it up and running it in from 8 yards out.
And with the Jaguars driving again behind Blake Bortles, it was slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman who positioned himself behind tight end Marcedes Lewis for his second interception of the season.
The Rams improved to 4-2, matching their win total from all of last season, even though Goff (11-of-21, 124 yards) wasn't spectacular and the offense as a whole didn't do much.
It was names like Cooper, Littleton, Brown, Everett and Robey-Coleman who came through when the Rams really needed it.
And in the process, begin their long three-game odyssey away from Los Angeles on the right foot. The Rams will remain in Jacksonville this week to practice in preparation for their NFC West clash against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in London.
And after the bye week the following week, they'll return to the East Coast to play the New York Giants.
Getting the win on Sunday kicks things off on the right foot.
"It makes the trip more enjoyable, you know?" said head coach Sean McVay. "Credit to our players. I think they just continue to show character, and continue to fight. Sometimes things don't always go our way, we've had a lot of adversity, but I think what you saw today, offense not really playing quite as well as we would like, defense and special teams picked up their performance, and it's about winning as a football team, and that's what we were able to do, and we've got to continue to improve in all three phases.
"I thought really, when you look at the special teams and the defense, hats off to them. They did a great job today."
On the injury front, TE Derek Carrier cleared the concussion protocol. Everybody else came out of Sunday's game fine. According to ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez, running back Lance Dunbar is also healthy and eligible to come off PUP, but the team can also delay that process by a week or two in order to preserve depth. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Running back Todd Gurley enjoyed a homecoming of sorts, having played four previous times at Jacksonville's EverBank Field as a member of the University of Georgia football team. No surprise, then, he enjoyed a solid afternoon against the Jaguars, rushing for 130 yards on 21 carries.
"This is my stadium, right here," Gurley said. "I've had one loss in this stadium, and (three) wins. Being able to play here brings back old memories. I had my family here and a bunch of Georgia Dawg fans here, so that was a good feeling."
The workload and rushing production were on point, but Gurley failed to find the end zone for a second-straight game.
With an emphasis on the ground game, Robert Woods led the team with just seven targets while Sammy Watkins had one of fewer catches for a third-straight game. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, "We simply cannot rely on anyone in the Rams' offense for predictable passing volume week-to-week. It's clear that the Rams and Goff won't force the ball to Watkins in bad matchups."
One last note here. ... Cooper was named the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday. He is the third Rams kick returner to earn a special teams player of the week honor.
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, JoJo Natson, Mike Thomas, Nsimba Webster
TEs: Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As ESPN.com's James Walker noted, for the first time in a month, Jay Cutler approached the postgame podium with good things to discuss.
There were no questions about Cutler's job security or Miami's last-place ranking in total offense and points scored entering Sunday's game. There also were no queries regarding how much the defense carries the Dolphins.
Miami's offense finally flashed in a big spot and, for the first time all season, lifted the Dolphins to a 20-17 upset of the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.
Cutler and Miami's offense got hot in the second half and scored 20 unanswered. It was Miami's highest point total of the season and the most efficient game on offense from many Dolphins, including Cutler, who had 151 passing yards and two touchdowns. Cutler was particularly impressive against the blitz. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Cutler was 12-of-15 for 109 yards and a touchdown when the Falcons brought pressure.
After five games, the Dolphins' offense is finally showing signs of life.
"[Now] you can look at the film and say, 'Hey, guys, this is an example of how it's done. This is the feeling you should feel as it happens,'" Cutler said. "You experience it and know that it's not just talk. You can make it happen."
Miami's offense was shut out the entire first half, but the hot streak in the third and fourth quarters provides reason for optimism.
Just last week fans were calling for Cutler's job with chants of "We want Moore" for backup quarterback Matt Moore. But Cutler's two touchdown passes, combined with Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi's 130 rushing yards, provided the balanced blueprint Miami (3-2) needs to win consistently. Miami did similar things last year to win 10 games and make the playoffs.
When the Dolphins trailed 17-0 at halftime, they could have easily gone in the tank. But head coach Adam Gase was impressed with the team's mental toughness.
"These guys are different cats, man," Gase said. "They have something in them to where it doesn't matter what the score is. They'll battle. [Sunday] was the first time the offense actually gave the defense a little hope there."
Miami's defense, which has been consistent all season, finally had a bad half and allowed 17 early points. But unlike previous games, the Dolphins' offense produced touchdowns and picked up the defense, which in turn shut out Atlanta in the second half.
This week the Dolphins will face the Jets (3-3), who beat Miami by two touchdowns last month. This is a good game for the Dolphins' offense to prove Sunday's performance wasn't a fluke.
"With the way the defense is playing, if we get it going a little bit better offensively, we're going to be OK," Cutler said. "But we can't be satisfied with this game. We gotta take a look at it, fix our mistakes and we gotta move on. ..."
Worth noting, Cutler wasn't fazed by the Falcons' blitz Sunday, completing 12-of-15 passes for 109 yards and a TD when the Falcons sent extra rushers. According to ESPN Stat and Information, Cutler's 12 completions against a blitz are his most in a game since Week 9 of 2009.
Entering the game, the Falcons had allowed just 18 completions and one TD when blitzing.
Gase liked what he saw from the offense this week, especially up front with the offensive line, the group Gase blamed for most of the offensive issues.
"They put a big emphasis this week - including the coaching staff - of strain and finish and making sure that if we make a mistake, we're at least going 100 miles an hour," Gase said, "and we're just trying to find a crease to create for (Ajayi) and trying to keep the pocket firm for Cutler and give him a chance to make some throws.
"Jay was getting the ball out quick. Jay Ajayi was doing a great job of he saw a hole, and he hit it and, he ran through arm tackles and he fought. I thought the receivers did a great job of blocking. Tight ends were trying to finish every block. I just thought the whole group did a better job of trying to finish the plays."
Miami is now 11-0 since last season when Ajayi has 18 or carries.
"Hey, man, I'll let the stats speak for themselves," Ajayi said when informed of the statistic. ...
Of come concern, center Mike Pouncey (concussion) is questionable for Sunday's game against the Jets. Pouncey was injured late in the second quarter of the Atlanta game and didn't return.
DeVante Parker (ankle) missed the Atlanta game and his status isn't known for Sunday's game against the New York Jets. According to Miami Herald staffer Armando Salguero, Gase told reporters on Wednesday that Parker is day to day making it "hard to anticipate anything."
Parker is second on the team in receptions (28) and yards (236).
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, with Parker out, Jarvis Landry became the clear funnel receiver. By adding 14 targets today, Landry far and away leads the team in targets with 57 on the season. His targets are almost exclusively of the short variety, however, as he averaged just 5.7. Right in line with his season average of 6.0.
Landry had three drops against Atlanta. He ended with eight receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Harmon added, "With usage like that, he will never have much of a yardage ceiling and will need to find the end zone to be usable in non-PPR leagues. ..."
Also according to Harmon, Parker's absence brought about less three-wide receiver sets, which Miami runs most of its offensive plays out of normally. Leonte Carroo was the No. 3 receiver but was on the field for just 38 percent of the plays. The second tight end, Anthony Fasano, was on the field for 69 percent of the plays.
Receiver Rashawn Scott is eligible to return this week after starting the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list with a foot injury. The problem is there doesn't seem to be room for Scott on the roster. But it must be noted Scott overtook Carroo late last season for a spot on the 53-man roster.
And finally. ... Cody Parkey booted a 38-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining that provided the winning points in the Dolphins' 20-17 victory over Atlanta. Parkey is now 7 of 7 on field-goal attempts.
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Mark Walton, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird
WRs: Preston Williams, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Allen Hurns
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Nick O'Leary, Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Teddy Bridgewater has been cleared to rejoin the Minnesota Vikings for practice, roughly 14 months after a dislocation and multiple ligament tears in his left knee put his leg and career at risk.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said Bridgewater will be eased back in with the team beginning Wednesday.
"We're not going to dose him out," Zimmer said Monday, after the 24-year-old quarterback visited his surgeon, Dr. Dan Cooper at the Carrell Clinic in Dallas, and was given the green light to participate.
According to NFL.com's Tom Pelissero, Bridgewater (knee) will be on pitch count in practice, though the QB is expected to have no physical limitations.
Bridgewater tweeted a simple "thank you" after getting the good news, effectively ending a grueling rehabilitation over the past year-plus.
When his knee buckled during a routine drop-back drill in a preseason practice on Aug. 30, 2016, the Vikings were devastated and the course of the franchise was altered significantly.
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell noted, director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman was credited for his fast action in saving Bridgewater from potential amputation due to the nerve damage that occurred during the massive injury.
"It's a great deal for Teddy," said Zimmer, who has been especially fond of the player the Vikings drafted with the final pick in the first round of the draft in 2014 a few months after he was hired. "We'll take it one day at a time just like we have the last 14 months."
Bridgewater remains on the physically unable to perform list. The Vikings have three weeks to evaluate him before having to decide whether to add him to the active roster or place on him on injured reserve and keep him out for a second straight season. Zimmer said Bridgewater would stay on the PUP list "until he's ready to play."
Further mystifying the team's quarterback situation is the lingering problem with Sam Bradford's twice-repaired left knee, described by Sugarman last week as "wear and tear," that has kept the starter out of 4½ games.
Backup Case Keenum has made a strong case, no pun intended, to keep the job. He has a 93.1 passer rating and 1,134 yards on 159 attempts, with five touchdowns and only four sacks and one interception. Despite a solid performance Sunday in the team's 23-10 victory over Green Bay, Zimmer declined to name Keenum the starter.
Though Bridgewater wouldn't be ready, Bradford's status has been officially day to day since he first experienced trouble the day after the season opener.
The Vikings, who tied the Packers for first place in the NFC North, host Baltimore this weekend.
"We'll just see how it goes," Zimmer said.
The scheme has clearly changed since Bridgewater last led the huddle, when Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator and Pat Shurmur was the tight ends coach.
Turner resigned at midseason last year, and Shurmur has put his stamp on the system after a full offseason to implement preferences and evaluate strengths. Keenum's accuracy and mobility have been good fits, as have Jerick McKinnon's abilities to run through different spots on the line and take screen passes for long gains.
Zimmer, however, expressed no concern about Bridgewater being behind with the game plans.
"He's been taking the script every week and running it by himself over there on the other fields," Zimmer said. "He'll be ready. Teddy is smart."
Keenum, true to his upbeat nature and the job requirement of being the second-stringer, expressed no stress about the uncertain status from week to week.
Bradford, Bridgewater and Keenum all have expiring contracts, but the long-term plan at the critical position will be left for another day.
"The more I practice and the more I play with those guys, we will form some more chemistry," Keenum said. "I feel more comfortable about what I'm thinking and what I'm seeing, and that makes us a better football team."
Meanwhile, the Vikings are 2-0 since Dalvin Cook went down against Detroit, and it's in large part due to McKinnon's explosive plays. He has done some really good things for an offense that hasn't had any misstep in figuring out how to maintain its approach in the run game without its superstar rookie.
For a second straight week, Latavius Murray started in the backfield. And just like in the last game, McKinnon had the hot hand and finished as the team's leading rusher.
Murray turned a season-high 15 carries into a season-low 1.9-yard average. McKinnon took 16 carries for 69 yards, which featured a 3-yard touchdown, and caught five passes for 30 yards in the win over Green Bay. A receiving touchdown that went 27 yards in the second quarter was the longest of his career.
But in recent weeks, ball security has been an issue for McKinnon, something that literally was never a problem in a 42-game stretch. McKinnon did not fumble in his first three years in the NFL. In the Vikings' past three games, he's fumbled three times. He lost two of them, including one Sunday that happened on Minnesota's next drive after he caught that touchdown pass.
"That fumble was not good, especially at that point in the game," Zimmer said. "We had a chance to get in good scoring position and we fumble and give it back and they end up scoring."
Still, McKinnon is averaging 4.7 yards per carry by doing what Cook did -- taking his runs all over the field and exhibiting speed and shiftiness on the edge. Nine of his rushes came up through the middle of his offensive line, and McKinnon also bounced three runs outside of the left tackle and two each toward the right guard and outside of the right tackle, according to ESPN Stats and Information tracking.
The Vikings have stuck with the run in Cook's absence, which gives this group confidence that they can play an integral role in keeping the offense multidimensional. It didn't take long for them to establish a rhythm and feel to the revamped run, either.
The Vikings have figured out how best to operate with their committee of running backs. McKinnon could be considered the clear-cut No. 1 back if his production continues and the mistakes with ball security cease to exist. Either way, he's the fantasy back of choice until Murray shows us more with his touches. ...
Other notes of interest. ... With Stefon Diggs out with a groin injury, Adam Thielen nearly cracked 100 yards receiving as Minnesota's top pass-catcher. In addition, Laquon Treadwell showed up.
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin noted, it's been a tough two years for the former first-round pick, but with Diggs out, Treadwell knew he was going to see more action. He registered a huge block early on and had a jaw-dropping one-handed catch in the third quarter that was arguably the best reception of the day.
The second-year receiver finished with three catches for 51 yards, and he nearly got the ball back for Minnesota after Clay Matthews recovered a McKinnon fumble in the second quarter.
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Michael Floyd went out as the starter in two-wide receiver sets with Thielen to start the game, but suffered a calf injury mid-game. That paved the wave for Treadwell to finally start to build some momentum. He ended up going out for 41 plays, second-most among their wideouts.
It's worth tracking whether he can get rolling if Minnesota suffers more injuries to their pass-catchers.
I'll be watching the status of Diggs and Diggs closely along with that of Bradford in coming days (none of them practiced Wednesday); watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Olabisi Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Tom Brady added to his list of incredible feats Sunday afternoon.
With the New England Patriots' 24-17 victory over the New York Jets, Brady became the all-time leader for the most career regular-season wins by an NFL quarterback. He earned his 187th career win, breaking a three-way share for the lead he held with Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.
Including playoffs, Brady has an NFL-leading 212 career victories.
Sunday's win wasn't anything close to flawless, however.
New England started the game sluggish and quickly found itself in a 14-0 hole. But the Patriots responded with 24 straight points, which included a pair of touchdown passes from Brady to Rob Gronkowski. It was the first time that tandem has connected for multiple scores in a game this season.
The offensive line deserved a lot of the credit after not allowing Brady to be sacked in a game for the first time this season. Head coach Bill Belichick said Monday he couldn't find any major issues in pass protection after reviewing the game film.
The clean day aside, left tackle Nate Solder said it's no time to feel satisfied.
"We're gonna need a lot more of them," Solder said.
The defense produced a pair of turnovers, holding its second straight opponent to less than 20 points. New England entered allowing 28.4 points per game.
And as ESPN.com's Mike Reiss noted, while Brady picked up his 24th career win over the Jets -- his most over any team other than the Bills (26) -- he didn't display his trademark accuracy and smart decision-making throughout. When the Patriots needed a first down to close out the game in the fourth quarter, Brady and Co. couldn't deliver.
At one point in the third quarter, after being sandwiched in between two Jets defenders and falling to the ground, Brady thrust his right fist into the ground in frustration.
Still, if the Patriots aren't leading the NFL in giving up big plays, they have to be close. Brady also continues to take his share of big hits. And penalties are still adding up.
"We'll keep at it. It's only the sixth game of the year. We still have a lot to figure out," Brady said. "We'll just keep going out to practice and trying to get better."
Added Gronkowski, "Every win is not pretty. You just have to keep on grinding."
This might simply be who the Patriots are this year, which has still been good enough for a 4-2 record and first place in the AFC East. From a bottom-line perspective, give them credit. They have shown the toughness to overcome adversity, much of it caused by their own play.
It's been that type of season, with Sunday's victory over the Jets the latest example. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Also according to Reiss, it's been almost two full years since Dion Lewis first tore his ACL and then experienced a setback prior to 2016 training camp, but Sunday's victory over the Jets might be the most clear-cut evidence that he's back to his old self.
Does he agree with that assessment?
"You watched the game," he said with confidence. "I feel good. I'm sure there are things I can do better, but it's going to keep getting better."
Lewis finished with 52 yards on 11 carries and one touchdown, but the more important number was 29. That was his total offensive snaps played, which was easily a season high and marked the first time he led all Patriots rushers in snaps played in a game.
James White, who plays in more passing situations, finished with 28, while Mike Gillislee had just 12. Gillislee's lost fumble in the first quarter earned him a 34-snap stretch on the bench.
For Lewis, it was the opportunity he's been waiting for after playing six, 14, 12, 14 and 18 snaps over the first five games of the season.
"It was frustrating, but I just came to work every day and knew I was going to get a chance," he said. "I didn't know when, but I vowed to myself that when I do get a chance, I'm going to prove myself."
Belichick commended Lewis for his hard running, noting that Sunday's effort was as well as the Patriots have run the ball against the Jets out of their regular offensive sets in a while.
"We ran outside, ran inside, ran back weakside, so we had some balance there," Belichick said, crediting the offensive line, tight ends and fullback James Develin, as well.
As for what this means this Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons, the 5-foot-8, 195-pound Lewis would obviously welcome an increased workload. He said there's no doubt he feels better physically than he did in 2016.
"Just to be out there, I love to play. Just to get an opportunity to do that, I try to show everybody that I deserve it," he said. "You can't really go out there, get plays and not do anything with it. So whenever I get the opportunity, I'm definitely trying to prove myself.
"I don't think about injuries. Anyone can get hurt on any play. I don't think it's more of a workload thing. It's just football. It's 100 percent injury rate. Hopefully, my percentage is a little higher to stay healthy right now."
I'll be watching for more on that in coming days -- although we all know how difficult divining the team's backfield plans can be any given week. ...
In a related note. ... Develin played a season high 24 offensive snaps, which reflected more two-back groupings than the norm. No. 2 tight end Dwayne Allen, meanwhile, was limited to just six snaps. At times, the Patriots favored a third offensive tackle (Nate Solder for four snaps) over Allen in the two-tight end package.
"I think our offensive line did a good job of getting the backs started, then the backs ran hard, made some yards on their own. James Develin and Rob Gronkowski are a big part of that, too," Belichick noted. "That was encouraging."
It is often said that football is a "matchup" game and by tapping more regular personnel, the Patriots decided their best matchup was against the Jets' base defensive personnel. ...
Gronkowski's thigh didn't limit him, as the only time he came off the field was in the 4-WR/1-RB package and the 3-WR/2-RB package. Brandin Cooks' nine targets represented a season-high for the former Saint and he's on pace 109 targets on the season.
Chris Hogan's streak of consistent production snapped, with just one catch on four targets. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Hogan did suffer an injury in this game but was still on the field for 92 percent of the team's plays.
And finally. ... Rex Burkhead (ribs) was inactive for the fourth straight game due to the injury suffered in Week 2 in New Orleans. Burkhead has practiced on a limited basis, began the week as questionable, then was downgraded to out.
QBs: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Ben Watson, Eric Tomlinson, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Mark Ingram wasn't entirely happy with his end zone dance, saying it wasn't quite TV ready.
Ingram was pleased, however, to have scored twice in a 52-38 triumph over Detroit on Sunday and see the normally pass-happy Saints win a game with more yards on the ground than through the air.
Ironically, the Saints' run-heavy triumph came on the heels of a decision to trade Adrian Peterson to Arizona after the veteran star running back had appeared in only four games. The move allowed the Saints to focus more play-calling for running backs on Ingram and versatile rookie Alvin Kamara, whose skills perhaps fit better in the "West Coast" style offense designed and called by coach Sean Payton.
"We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity," Ingram said. "We wanted to prove that we can carry this team running the ball, receiving the ball and being playmakers for this offense."
As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel notes, the tandem combined for 237 yards from scrimmage. Ingram had 114 yards rushing on 25 carries, and 36 yards receiving on five catches. Kamara gained 75 yards on 10 carries and caught four passes for 12 yards. The Saints (3-2) had 186 yards passing against Detroit (3-3).
Ingram said he wasn't surprised the running game thrived with focus of the game plan narrowed from three running backs to two.
"When you're in, out, down a series, maybe two series, you just don't stay warm. You just don't stay in the flow of a game," Ingram said. "Any running back in this league will tell you that when they touch the ball, when they carry the ball, they feel well. They feel like they're getting a rhythm and that's when you have success."
By the same token, Ingram was not surprised Peterson rushed for a season-high 134 yards and two TDs on 26 carries the same day, rather conveniently helping Arizona beat Saints division rival Tampa Bay.
"We just had three great running backs in one room and we were trying to get everybody into a rhythm," Ingram said. "I'm glad to hear what Adrian's doing in Arizona. We've been telling you all along that he's still got the juice, so I'm glad he's out there proving it."
Indeed, as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, Sean Payton described the Peterson trade as a "win-win" earlier this week. But it really turned out to be more of a win-win-win-win-win for all of the teams and runners involved Sunday.
Peterson had a monster day to lead his new team, the Arizona Cardinals, to a victory, while Ingram and Kamara feasted as well.
Go ahead and include fantasy owners on the list of winners.
Of course, as Triplett added, there might come a time where Ingram or Kamara gets dinged up later this year and the Saints' brass has to deal with some backlash for letting A.D. get away for the pittance of a sixth-round pick. Still, it was impossible to find anyone unhappy Sunday with a trade that Payton described earlier this week as "common sense."
And one thing the Saints' versatile and potent offense has proven throughout a decade of running back timeshares under Payton is that there is enough to go around for at least two of them.
This is now two straight victories where Ingram (as the leading man) and Kamara (as the dynamic change-of-pace option) have both had big games on the same day.
That said, the Saints' run game wasn't perfect Sunday. Ingram fumbled after a pass catch and had two third-and-short runs stopped short of a first down. And Kamara lost four yards on a run from the Saints' 5-yard line and had to dive to avoid a safety in the fourth quarter before Brees threw a pick-six on the next play.
Plus, Ingram was admittedly disappointed with his first touchdown dance of the season -- a move that he said he learned from a kid that he saw while on vacation in the Bahamas and had been waiting all year to bust out.
"I'm not happy with my dance. ... Because it wasn't how I had practiced," Ingram lamented. "I was really good at home in the mirror, but I wasn't TV-ready yet."
New Orleans, which visits Green Bay on Sunday, is the only NFL team this season to win three consecutive games by at least two touchdowns. Going up against the injury-plagued Packers, Ingram might get a chance to improve on that dance. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The law of averages caught up with the Saints as their turnover-free streak to start the season ended.
The Saints' streak of no turnovers came to a controversial end with an interception by Lions CB Darius Slay. The Saints were trying to become the first team in NFL history with no turnovers through the first five games. But Slay ripped the ball away from Michael Thomas.
Thomas appeared to have it in his grasp until they hit the ground. But the call held up after a replay review -- much to the dismay of Payton.
New Orleans was just the third NFL team since 1933 to go without committing a turnover in the first four games of the season. ...
Brees had one of his poorest performances in a game that the Saints won. He passed for just 186 yards ending a streak of 55 consecutive games with at least 200 passing yards and threw two interceptions. The second interception was returned 2 yards for a touchdown.
Willie Snead made his season debut after being suspended for the first three games of the season and missing the fourth game because of a hamstring injury. Snead caught one pass for 11 yards, converting a third-and-10 during a touchdown drive that gave New Orleans a 17-7 lead. But he played just 30 percent of the offensive snaps and was targeted just three times.
The matchup with Slay and the run-heavy approach combined to limit Thomas. ...
One last note here. ... The Saints promoted RB Daniel Lasco from the practice squad on Tuesday.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, Drew Brees
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Austin Carr, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
And this is why they play the games, right?
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan reported it, with all their playmaking receivers lost for the season with injuries, the Giants (1-5) took a page from their past. They played smash-mouth football. They ran the ball. They stopped the run. They didn't turn it over, and they made the big plays when they needed them in a stunning 23-10 win over the Broncos in Denver.
Head coach Ben McAdoo even changed. With his team in turmoil following five straight losses and his defense unhappy with his indefinite suspension of popular cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the second-year coach made sure he was more accessible to his team. He turned over the offensive play calling to coordinator Mike Sullivan for the first time so he could be there for all of his units.
"I felt with the things taking place last week, I needed to delegate play-calling duty to Sully," McAdoo said Monday. "He did a great job sticking to the plan during the ballgame, sticking with the run and putting us in position to win the ballgame. I felt during the course of the week, better to make sure that I was here for the entire football team and this organization any way that I could be."
McAdoo said the switch gave him a chance to be around his players on the bench and to encourage them more than he has in the past.
In typical McAdoo fashion, he refused to say whether the changes would remain in place, although it would seem hard to change after a win.
"It's great to get the first one," McAdoo said. "Now, we have to start stacking them. But this is pro sports. Not everybody gets a ribbon."
It's obvious the run game will be relied on more with the receiver corps depleted by the injuries to Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris. New York had 266 yards in total offense on 54 plays. However, it ran the ball 32 times for 148 yards, an average of 4.6 yards. Orleans Darkwa had a career-high 117 yards on 21 carries.
Eli Manning completed 11 of 19 passes for 128 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. His 19 attempts were his lowest in a full regular-season game since he threw 15 passes at Buffalo on Dec. 23, 2007. His 11 completions were his fewest in a full game since Nov. 4, 2012, when he had 10 (on 24 attempts) against Pittsburgh. Rookie tight end Evan Engram caught a touchdown.
"Each game, each opponent, provides a new challenge and a new week," McAdoo said. "So, it just depends on how the week goes and what we think we have to do to give us the best chance to win the ballgame."
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, Sullivan put together a fairly successful game plan that featured more two-tight-end sets and running plays than usual. The Giants used 12 personnel (two tight ends, two wide receivers and one running back) on 72 percent of their offensive plays against the Broncos, according to Pro Football Focus. The NFL average is 19 percent.
It's in stark comparison to what the Giants were last season and early this season, when they were running three-wide-receiver sets more than any other team in the league.
But this Giants team needed change. McAdoo realized it was necessary and made the decision early in the week. He told Manning, but most of the Giants players didn't know until the game. Guard Justin Pugh and center Brett Jones said they didn't even realize until they returned to the locker room after the game.
They all saw an offense that operated differently, in part because of their altered personnel and because of their opponent. McAdoo played a part in developing the game plan. Sullivan then executed it by calling 31 runs and 23 passes. That's 57 percent passes and 43 percent runs.
The Giants were 70:30 pass:run with McAdoo calling plays the first five weeks of the season.
On Sunday, the Giants unveiled their fifth offensive line combination of the season, a configuration that, from left to right, consisted of Ereck Flowers, John Jerry, Brett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Justin Pugh.
That offensive line configuration delivered perhaps the best showing to date of any of the previous groupings by enabling the running game to average 4.6 yards per carry while mostly keeping the ever dangerous Von Miller from maiming Manning.
Darkwa posted a career-high 117 rushing yards on a career-high 21 carries against the Broncos' top-ranked run defense and the defense did its part.
Janoris Jenkins scored on an interception return and Jason-Pierre-Paul had three sacks.
The Giants will be tested again this week, when they take on the Seahawks. ....
Other notes of interest. ... Manning played in his 207th regular-season game, tying former tight end Howard Cross for second on the Giants' career list. Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan is first with 216 games played. Manning also started his 205th consecutive game; he is three games shy of tying his brother Peyton for the second longest starting streak in history by a quarterback.
As noted above, Darkwa posted career-highs for carries and yardage and had a career-long run of 47 yards. Darkwa's previous career-high was 69 yards, set last week against the Los Angeles Chargers. His previous career-high of 12 carries was set on Oct. 3, 2016 at Minnesota. He also had the team's first 100-yard rushing game since Paul Perkins ran for 102 yards at Washington on Jan. 1.
Aldrick Rosas' 51-yard field goal was the longest three-pointer by a Giants kicker since Nov. 15, 2015, when Josh Brown converted on a 53-yarder vs. the Patriots at home, and the Giants' longest field goal on the road since Brown's 52-yarder at St. Louis on Dec. 21, 2014.
On the injury front, questions remain. ... The status Shepard (ankle) and Perkins (ribs) -- remains up in the air.
"We'll have some guys that will probably give individual (drills) a shot on Wednesday and see where we are on Wednesday with the speed reps," McAdoo said. "But Thursday will be a good tell."
Both players were on the field Wednesday, although it's not yet clear how much work they got. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update. ...
Meanwhile, one issue was settled on Tuesday.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be back with the team when they return to work Wednesday, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.
McAdoo and Rodgers-Cromartie had a disagreement about playing time that got heated last week, and McAdoo decided to suspend Rodgers-Cromartie. That led to some talk that there were big problems within the Giants' locker room, although that dissipated when the Giants played by far their best game of the season in Sunday night's win over the Broncos.
Whatever issues there were between coach and player, they've now been resolved well enough that the suspension is coming to an end, and Rodgers-Cromartie's indefinite suspension has turned out to last just one game.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Eli Manning, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Elijhaa Penny, Austin Walter
WRs: Golden Tate, Cody Latimer, Cody Core, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Garrett Dickerson, Kaden Smith
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr., more than 24 hours later, Josh McCown still didn't quite understand why the New York Jets had a touchdown -- and then, just as suddenly, didn't.
"It's really the same response as yesterday," the quarterback said Monday, "I don't know."
The Jets watched Austin Seferian-Jenkins' 4-yard touchdown-turned-fumble and touchback numerous times, and the controversial call by officials was debated and dissected by Monday morning quarterbacks all over social media and sports talk shows.
"We're not going to cry about it all week," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "We have to go play Miami."
Al Riveron, the NFL's senior vice president of officiating, said during a conference call that it was "clear and obvious" that Seferian-Jenkins fumbled in the fourth quarter of the Jets' 24-17 loss to New England on Sunday. Riveron was responsible for changing the call from the league's replay center in New York.
Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said it was "a B.S. call" after the game, and many Jets fans -- and even non-Jets fans along with every fantasy owner invested in McCown and Seferian-Jenkins -- agreed. Confusion still seemed to remain on Monday, even after referee Tony Corrente explained the reversal on Sunday and Riveron detailed his decision.
"The ball was put out of bounds by the offensive player across the goal line and went out of bounds in the end zone," Riveron said. "So, by rule, that is a touchback. New England gets the ball, first-and-10 from the 20-yard line going out."
Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira -- both of whom used to hold Riveron's job -- said they thought Seferian-Jenkins had either regained control of the ball in time or that it was too close to overturn.
"Obviously, when it doesn't go your way, there's a human element that is very frustrated," McCown said.
"But unless you can show me a precedent where they've gone back and changed the score of a game, for us moving forward, it really doesn't do any good. It's gone, it's over with, and it's frustrating and we'll hate it and all that stuff, but for us to continue talking about it just does no good."
That appeared to be the overwhelming message around the Jets: Sure, they're not happy, but they're on to preparing for their next game against the Dolphins in Miami next Sunday.
"They're not changing the call," Bowles said. "We're not winning the ballgame. We've moved on. I don't really give two shakes about it."
Added defensive end Leonard Williams: "It's pointless to keep watching it and keep watching it."
Bowles pointed out that the overturned touchdown, which kept it a 10-point deficit for New York instead of just three, wasn't the only reason the Jets lost to the Patriots in what was an early season battle for first place in the AFC East.
The Jets started fast, scoring on their opening possession for the first time this season and raced out to a 14-0 lead. But the offense couldn't maintain its efficiency and didn't reach the end zone again.
A miscommunication between McCown and Robby Anderson resulted in a momentum-shifting interception with 35 seconds left in the first half that Tom Brady turned into a tying touchdown just moments later. The Jets also ran for just 74 yards on 24 carries against the 32nd-ranked defense.
"We opened up and we went down the field and scored for the first time without going three-and-out, and they gave us some opportunities to try and do some things," Bowles said. "It was a good game plan, but we still need to run the ball more."
New York's run defense remains an issue and ranks 28th in the NFL. The Jets' pass rush has been virtually non-existent, with just seven sacks this season -- and none from their defensive linemen.
"If we stop the run a little better, we can rush the passer a little more," Bowles said. "Right now, we have some spurts where we did and then had some spurts where we didn't, so we just have to be more consistent at it and the pass rush will be there."
The Jets have been one of the league's early surprises, starting 3-3 in a season when many outside the facility believed New York would have trouble winning any games after a massive roster reconstruction.
With a .500 record, the Jets are certainly in the playoff mix in the AFC. They believe they'll continue to be there even late in the season.
This week, the Jets have a chance to rebound with a game against a team they've already defeated. New York beat Miami 20-6 in Week 3, but the Dolphins are now 3-2 and are coming off an impressive 20-17 comeback victory over Atlanta.
Other notes of interest. ... McCown threw for a season-high 354 yards, but every quarterback to play the Patriots this season has thrown for more than 300 yards, so that number isn't as impressive as it usually is.
The problem was his two interceptions.
The first, toward the end of the first half to Malcolm Butler, was telegraphed, and instead of the Jets having the chance at a field goal to extend their lead to 17-7, the Patriots scored with nine seconds left in the half to tie the game. The second didn't matter as much because it was on fourth down, but it led to a field goal on the other end to give the Pats a 10-point lead.
Since the Jets went pass happy against the league's worst pass defense, only 21 of their 75 offensive plays were designed runs, Elijah McGuire and Matt Forte, back after missing the last two games, fared poorly.
With Bilal Powell ruled out due to a tender calf, Each had 22 yards rushing, and McCown's 16-yard scramble was the team's longest run of the game.
After rushing for 256 yards two weeks ago against the Jaguars, the Jets have a combined 108 rushing yards the last two weeks.
It's not clear if Powell will be ready to return this weekend, but he did not practice Wednesday. Neither did Robby Anderson (ankle). I'll have more on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
As for the receivers, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Anderson got the volume with 12 targets, but Kearse had almost equaled his production (4-79 to 4-76) on just four targets. Harmon added, "This duo makes some sense as deep wide receiver plays when the Jets are projected to get into a pass-heavy game script, as McCown hit a season-high 47 pass attempts."
Of course, Seferian-Jenkins continues to be a viable QB1 on a weekly basis. He drew a season-high 11 targets against the Patriots and averages 7.3 per game.
QBs: Sam Darnold, David Fales
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Javorius Allen, Ty Montgomery, Trenton Cannon, Bilal Powell
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Bellamy, Tim White, Braxton Berrios
TEs: Chris Herndon, Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Derek Carr, two weeks removed from suffering a broken bone in his back, said he would not play if it would hurt his Oakland Raiders teammates.
The rest from taking last week's game off versus the rust from sitting out is a fine line, but Carr was off against the Los Angeles Chargers.
To be fair, Carr has not been the same since the self-described "aberration" at Washington, suffering a broken right ankle in Week 16 last winter, and breaking his right pinkie the weekend after Thanksgiving last season.
And try as he did against the Chargers on Sunday, it simply was not enough in a 17-16 loss, the Raiders' fourth straight defeat in a season in serious danger of being over.
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez notes, at 2-4, the Raiders are now in last place in the AFC West and play host to the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night. The Chiefs are 5-1 against Carr.
It is the first four-game losing streak for the Raiders since they dropped 16 straight from Week 12 of the 2013 season to Week 11 of the 2014 season. Yes, when they beat the Chiefs on a rainy Thursday night in Oakland for Carr's first career victory.
This is a different Carr, though, one who is out of sync, unable to maintain whatever game plan first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing is coming up with.
Several times in the course of this game -- in which Carr, wearing a pad on his back, threw two interceptions -- the quarterback looked unsure of himself.
According to Gutierrez, Carr again seemed to be aiming passes, instead of throwing the ball. He looked to be throwing off his back foot instead of stepping into the throw. And his throws to Marshawn Lynch, across the middle, inside the Chargers' 15-yard line, and to Michael Crabtree, on fourth and 2 near midfield, were badly off target.
His throw to Lynch bounced off Lynch's hands and resulted in an interception. The throw to Crabtree resulted in a turnover on downs.
Carr finished 21-of-30 passing for 171 yards, with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree. He was hit a few times and the crowd held its collective breath.
The 47-yard touchdown run by Cordarrelle Patterson seemed to give the Raiders' misfiring offense the spark it needed, but the missed PAT by Giorgio Tavecchio after a high snap from Jon Condo, was an omen.
In the past, it would be no sweat for Carr to lead the offense downfield for a game-winning score, or at least bleed the clock for the last six minutes.
This version of Carr and the Raiders offense, though, is not that group. Instead, it was a three-and-out.
Looking for a positive?
The Oakland injury report filed on Monday in advance of Thursday night's showdown with the Chiefs omits Carr's name entirely, which signifies that he's as fine as he was before the injury. Which as Profootballtalk.com suggested, is even more impressive, given that head coach Jack Del Rio initially explained that the injury would keep Carr out for 2-6 weeks.
As for the defense? Help is on the way, although it's not clear exactly how much help NaVorro Bowman is going to be to an Oakland Raiders team on a four-game losing streak and in last place in the AFC West.
As the Raiders began preparations to host the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night, they announced the signing of Bowman, who was released at his request by the winless San Francisco 49ers.
Bowman's time figured to be restricted as the season went on with the 49ers, particularly with rookie Reuben Foster returning from an ankle injury.
With the Raiders, Bowman figures to step right in at middle linebacker possibly as soon as Thursday night.
"We'll see how the week goes," Del Rio said. "See how he picks things up. See where we are with other guys, the whole deal. How it all fits together."
With the Chiefs at 5-1, it's safe to say that Thursday night's game is the closest thing to a must win that any team can have in Week 7. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Patterson hasn't become much of a factor in the passing game, but he had his second breakaway run for a touchdown, racing 47 yards on a jet sweep to temporarily give the Raiders a lead in the second half against the Chargers.
Patterson earlier had a 43-yard scoring run on an inside handoff out of the shotgun in a 45-20 win over the New York Jets.
"I'm a playmaker, man," Patterson said. "That's something I do. Every time I get the ball in my hands I feel I'm going to score. No matter whenever I touch the ball, that's the mentality I have. I was just born with it."
It looked as if the Raiders could do some serious damage against the Chargers' No. 32-ranked rush defense when Lynch had 37 yards in the first quarter. He finished with 63. Change-of-pace backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington got nowhere.
Patterson's 43-yard run was the highlight.
Aside from that, the 23-yard scoring pass to Crabtree was pretty much it in the passing attack, although Amari Cooper was reacquainted with the offense, catching five passes, for a paltry 28 yards.
QBs: Derek Carr, Mike Glennon
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow, Trevor Davis, Dwayne Harris, Keelan Doss
TEs: Darren Waller, Derek Carrier, Foster Moreau
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Fresh off a punishing game in which he was sacked three times and absorbed eight quarterback hits, Carson Wentz was asked how he felt physically during his postgame news conference.
"I'm feeling great. We're 5-1, baby," he responded.
But as ESPN.com's Tim McManus noted, the Eagles' 28-23 win over the Panthers was hard-earned. They knew they had their hands full against a Panthers defense that entered the game ranked third in the NFL in sacks (17), especially without the services of right tackle Lane Johnson, still in concussion protocol.
Johnson's replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, gave up a sack to Julius Peppers right out of the chute. All three sacks came off the right side of the Eagles' line, along with seven of the 13 pressures.
The degree of difficulty was ratcheted up by the fact that Carolina used exotic looks it had not shown on tape. And did they ever bring the heat. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Panthers sent the blitz 24 times in the game -- the most by any team this season.
"It's a tremendous testament to those players in that locker room," head coach Doug Pederson said. "I told them tonight after the game I haven't been part of a team that has battled through so much injury and adversity to be in the first month of the season, month and a half of the season, the resiliency of the football team started to show last year at the end of the year. They're learning from last year. They're learning how to finish games and just the overall consistency from the leaders leading this football team. They are sacrificing each other- themselves for the football team. It's a fun thing to watch."
Wentz went just 3-of-15 for 35 yards with two sacks against the blitz on his first nine drives. Then he figured it out, going 5-of-6 for 86 yards with a TD and no takedowns on the final four series. And, despite being popped and twisted along the way, he tossed three touchdowns with no interceptions in a performance that earned further respect from his teammates.
"You want to look at a game and talk about character? That freakin' showed it right there," said tight end Zach Ertz, who caught two of those touchdowns to continue his red-hot start to the season. "I mean, the guy is getting smacked early and often in the beginning of the game. He never wavered, his confidence never wavered, his composure never wavered. I think that just speaks volumes about how we feel about him and how he feels about us."
The 22nd game of Wentz's NFL career proved to be one of the most challenging.
The whole scene contrasted so sharply from last week's 34-7 trouncing of the Arizona Cardinals, where everything this Eagles team did seemed so effortless. As McManus put it, "This one was more like a cage match, with just about every yard coming at a cost."
Difficult as it proved to be, the win revealed how much this quarterback and team have grown over the course of the last year-plus. It is an experience that should serve them well as they try to shift from a promising upstart team to playoff contenders.
Worth noting: As a rookie last year, Wentz threw just three third-down touchdown passes the entire season. This year, he already has eight, including two against Carolina and three the previous week against Arizona.
Other notes of interest heading into Monday nights' game against the Redskins. ... The Eagles finished with just 101 yards on 27 carries in Carolina, and that was with 25 yards from Wentz. They had just four rushing first downs, but were effective enough to keep the Panthers defense off-balance.
LeGarrette Blount had four double-digit-yard runs and continued to be a between-the-tackles beast.
In fact, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggests, Blount has emerged as the Eagles' most reliable running back over the last few weeks. Blount finished with 67 rush yards on his 14 attempts and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the season. Expect more of the same when Blount faces the Redskins. ...
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Alshon Jeffery checked in with 10 targets, his second-highest total on the season. Harmon explained, the Eagles certainly tried to get him rolling in the vertical game, as he owned a 45.1 percent share of Wentz's intended air yards. That led to some low percentage looks, which helps explain why he caught just four of his 10 targets.
"Much of this game is quite similar to Jeffery's entire 2017 campaign," Harmon added. "Where he has a 50 percent catch rate and has the seventh-highest share of his quarterback's intended air yard among all wide receivers. As he gets comfortable with his new team and quarterback, Jeffery will remain a volatile asset. ..."
Beyond that, Harmon notes that Nelson Agholor was on the field for 79 percent of the team's plays, out-working Torrey Smith (57 percent). He came away with his second touchdown in consecutive games. Averaging just five targets per game, Agholor doesn't have the volume to be a predictable fantasy asset, but he's truly made the leap as an individual player. ...
And finally. ... Wendell Smallwood, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, will return to practice on a limited basis next week, Pederson said. In addition, Johnson was officially cleared through the concussion protocol on Tuesday.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Greg Ward, DeSean Jackson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Another week and another potential distraction for the Steelers, whose 2017 season might as well be titled: "As the Steelers turn." Every week has soap opera-like storylines with the latest star character being wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
A report surfaced late Sunday after the Steelers' 19-13 victory in Kansas City that Bryant had requested a trade.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport was the first to report the trade request and other news outlets quickly confirmed the report.
But Bryant, speaking Monday afternoon at the Steelers' practice facility, said it's not true.
"No, I'm good, man," Bryant said. "Good to go. I'm going to play ball. Finish strong and move on forward."
Bryant is upset that rookie second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster has apparently passed him by in the receiver rotation. Through six games, Smith-Schuster has more snaps than Bryant (296-285) though Bryant has provided more production.
Bryant has 17 receptions for 231 yards and one touchdown while Smith-Schuster has 15 receptions for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
"It is what it is," said Bryant, when asked if he has had to adjust to his role this season. "I'm not complaining. I know my potential and what I can do. The little bit I get, whatever I get, I just have to make the best of it. Everything else isn't in my control."
Last week, running back Le'Veon Bell complained about his touches after the Steelers lost to the Jaguars. Two weeks ago, it was Antonio Brown who threw a sideline temper tantrum after Ben Roethlisberger failed to throw him the ball.
Perhaps Bryant saw what that did for those two -- with both players coming up big subsequent to their complaints/outbursts.
After weeks of drama, including a Bell-needs-more-carries declaration (by Bell), Brown's Gatorade-cooler drama and Big Ben's "does-the-QB-still-have-it" drama, the Steelers put it all to sleep by defeating the Chiefs 19-13, and looking like themselves again behind Bell's staggering 179 yards and a late-game sack by James Harrison and Cam Heyward.
Brown's wild, game-clinching touchdown bounced off Kansas City cornerback Phillip Gaines' hands and head and into Browns' arms, who did the rest for a sideline-streaking, 51-yard score with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left.
You can call the Steelers Team Turmoil - it's certainly true - but they are alone in first place atop the AFC North and in contention for a top seed in the AFC playoffs. They are 4-2 entering Sunday's home game against the Bengals.
They haven't let the distractions sabotage their season, but it does make one wonder where they'd be in the standings if they were simply able to concentrate on football
Roethlisberger (17-of-25, 252 yards, one touchdown, one interception) made his share of impressive throws. Touch passes to Brown and Vance McDonald over the middle created crucial first downs. Roethlisberger's only interception came on a miscommunication with Brown, who ran a hitch instead of a slant for an easy first down.
Bryant, meanwhile, is fourth on the Steelers in receptions (17) and second in receiving yards (231). But he played 33 snaps in Kansas City. That's 11 fewer than Smith-Schuster.
Both players got three targets apiece in Kansas City.
Bryant -- who scored 15 touchdowns in his first 21 NFL games before missing all of 2016 over multiple drug violations -- said his goal is helping the Steelers improve and preparing for the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I know my potential and what I can do," Bryant said. "The little bit I get or whatever I get, I just have to make the best of it. Everything else is out of my control."
Bryant said his chemistry with Roethlisberger is coming along "pretty good" since Bryant returned from suspension.
Bryant stressed he knows it's a long season and has time to turn things around, pointing to his statement on twitter Sunday night that he plans to help the Steelers win a seventh Super Bowl. As for his playing time and role in the offense?
"That's up to the coaches," he said.
Steelers players had fun with the trade rumors in the locker room Monday. When reporters surrounded Bryant, several players started hollering, prompting a smile from Bryant.
Bell jokingly said: "I guess your statement wasn't enough."
Center Maurkice Pouncey and safety Mike Mitchell both designated the same new team for Bryant.
"Golden State," Pouncey said.
Roethlisberger was asked about the report during a Tuesday appearance on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh and said his conversations with Bryant haven't left him thinking Bryant wants out.
"Martavis, I talked to him, he doesn't want to go anywhere," Roethlisberger said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Sometimes things come from agents because they want what they think is best for the player and don't realize that it ends up hurting the player. I don't know exactly what happened here, but I do know that Martavis, there hasn't been any inklings of unhappiness. It's unnecessary drama."
Whatever happened, Bryant is in Pittsburgh and there's no sign that the Steelers plan to change that in the near future. An uptick in production from Bryant would likely ensure things remained that way and Roethlisberger said he thinks increased repetitions after missing all of last year will get Bryant back to a role like the one he played in 2015. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Bell's season-high 179 yards on 32 carries came against a Chiefs defense he's dominated. In his past three games against the Chiefs, he has rushed for 144, 170 and 179 yards. The first two came in 2016 - one in the regular season and the other in the playoffs.
Bell recorded at least 150 yards from scrimmage for the 13th time in his career, breaking a tie with Franco Harris for the most such games in franchise history.
On Wednesday, Bell was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week.
QBs: Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Johnny Holton, Ryan Switzer, Donte Moncrief, James Washington
TEs: Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, Zach Gentry, Xavier Grimble
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
The 49ers did not find their first victory of the season on Sunday in Washington. In fact, the Niners dropped to 0-6 with a 26-24 defeat at the hands of the Redskins.
In the process, the Niners became the first team in the NFL's Super Bowl era to lose five straight games by three points or fewer.
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner reported it, although any hope of a miracle one-season turnaround had already vanished, the 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan offered fans a reason to pay close attention over the season's final 10 games, and his name is C.J. Beathard.
With Shanahan acknowledging he would be open to a shake-up at quarterback when he felt the time was right, the Niners' coach finally made the move during Sunday's game. And it's a move he confirmed he will stick to moving forward after the game.
"I tell him each week to be ready and prepare that way," Shanahan said. "I wanted him thinking [he was a starter] since the first game. Whether you're planning it or not, that's how you have to think of it. You are one play away from an injury. I try to keep the same temperament and mentality with those guys all the time but I knew this week it was about time."
With starting quarterback Brian Hoyer and the offense off to another slow start -- they entered the game without a touchdown pass in any quarter but the fourth this season -- Shanahan turned to Beathard with 6:39 left in the second quarter.
At the time, the Niners were trailing 17-0 and appeared well on their way to a blowout loss that would represent a major change from the past month in which they'd lost four close games in a row.
Wagoner went on to note that playing in the stadium where his grandfather Bobby Beathard's name is in the Redskins Ring of Honor, C.J. Beathard didn't shrink from the moment or cower in fear at the home crowd. Beathard calmly zipped a pass to tight end Garrett Celek for a 13-yard gain on his second snap. It was Beathard's first pass attempt and completion in the NFL.
"I thought he did great," left tackle Joe Staley said. "I thought he came in there and did a really good job. He threw the ball around. I thought we were able to do a better job protecting him than we did early on and they were able to push the pocket early on. He did well."
Ultimately, Beathard's first extended debut was very close but just not quite enough for the Niners to end their run of close losses. He was unable to piece together the final drive needed to win it in the fourth quarter. But he got them close, including an impressive 45-yard touchdown to receiver Aldrick Robinson with 1:58 to play.
This season has always been about much more than just 2017. With Hoyer at quarterback, the Niners knew what they were going to get. There would be good moments mixed with many more bad ones. Hoyer had been exactly as advertised in the first five-plus games.
Beathard has no such sample size. The Niners don't know what they have in him any more than anyone else does. And for a team that on Friday released linebacker NaVorro Bowman and isn't shying away from a full-blown youth movement, now was the right time to go to Beathard.
As Wagoner contends, had Shanahan waited to turn it over to Beathard until late in the season, the Niners would have gotten a glimpse of what he could be, but the sample size would undoubtedly have been too small to make any definitive judgments about how they should approach the position in the offseason.
Making the move now gives the Niners a much better chance to see what they have in Beathard while also allowing him to work through the inevitable rookie mistakes.
For now, the focus will be on improvement as Beathard enters his first week knowing he's the starter heading into this week's game against the Cowboys.
In a few related items. ... The change at QB didn't affect Pierre Garcon's usage much. He still led the team in targets, with eight of his 12 coming from Beathard. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Hoyer wasn't playing well enough for this to change how we should view Garcon going forward.
Also according to Harmon, George Kittle didn't come through with the fantasy production many hoped for in a great matchup following his strong Week 5 line against Indianapolis. However, the usage was still encouraging. Kittle was on the field for a whopping 91 percent of the team's plays and saw eight targets, trailing only Garcon.
Seven of his eight looks came from Beathard. Kittle remains on the streaming radar heading into the Week 7 date with the Cowboys.
Robinson's touchdown catch was the eighth of his 60-game NFL career, and his first as a 49er. ...
TE Cole Hikutini made his NFL debut Sunday at Washington, playing 10 snaps, including eight on special teams. The rookie was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Also according to Wagoner, on the heels of the decision to release Bowman last Friday, speculation immediately turned to running back Carlos Hyde.
After all, much like Bowman, Hyde had his playing time reduced last week against the Indianapolis Colts and also let it be known he wasn't thrilled about it in his postgame media session.
Reports soon surfaced that the Niners were attempting to deal Hyde as well. Following Sunday's loss, Shanahan adamantly shot down those reports.
"That is absolutely, absolutely 100 percent false," Shanahan said. "There is nothing true about that."
Rookie running back Matt Breida played two more snaps than Hyde against the Colts, fueling the belief that perhaps Hyde was being phased out like Bowman was. But that didn't seem to be the case Sunday when Hyde was on the field more than Breida and got more opportunities to carry the ball, though Breida again seemed to have more success in limited attempts.
Against the Redskins, Hyde finished with 13 carries for 28 yards with two touchdowns and five catches for 47 yards while Breida had four carries for 21 yards and two catches for 15 yards.
Hyde was on the field for 56 of the 49ers' 72 offensive snaps and he didn't seem too concerned with any trade rumors centering on his name.
"That's out of my control," Hyde said. "All I can do is go out here and help my team get a win. So that's all I worry about."
Hyde is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season and with the trade deadline a couple weeks away, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Niners did listen if a team expressed interest between now and then.
In the meantime, Hyde said he spoke to general manager John Lynch, who reassured him of his status with the team.
"I talked to John a little bit and he told me it wasn't true, either, and to focus on playing football," Hyde said. "That's all I can do anyway is focus on playing football."
Again, from a fantasy perspective, "hot-hand" situations can be difficult to deal with. That will be the case with Hyde and Breida going forward; just remember, Hyde get the first shot at gaining that hot hand and he's only failed to do so once this season.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk (sore back) was inactive for the 49ers' game Sunday at Washington. Juszczyk suffered a concussion in the Week 4 loss at Arizona, but was able to return the following Sunday at Indianapolis. However, he came out of the Indianapolis game with a sore back and couldn't practice leading up to the Washington game.
The 49ers announced the roster moves they made Tuesday, signing defensive linemen Leger Douzable and Tony McDaniel to one-year deals. They placed defensive lineman Arik Armstead on injured reserve and released tight end Logan Paulsen.
Armstead fractured his hand, requiring surgery. Paulsen appeared in all six games this season.
And finally. ... Robbie Gould saw his streak of 15 consecutive made field goals to open the season snapped when he missed a 47-yarder in the third quarter of Sunday's loss at Washington. Gould earlier had connected from 52 yards out to extend his franchise record.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Jalen Hurd, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor
TEs: George Kittle, Levine Toilolo, Ross Dwelley
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson reminded readers, the Seahawks scored their first points of their game against the Los Angeles Rams when Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham hooked up on a 4-yard touchdown pass. Graham was isolated one-on-one with a defensive back, Wilson lobbed a jump ball into the end zone and it worked. Finally.
That was something the Seahawks, their fans and fantasy owners have been waiting almost two-and-a-half seasons to see.
"Yeah, we really have," head coach Pete Carroll said. "We've worked on it a lot, and just for whatever reason, there's only been a couple of them with the time that we've been here. So hopefully we can do that some more."
Graham's red-zone production with Seattle has been underwhelming based on expectations that accompanied his arrival in a 2015 trade with the New Orleans Saints. In 63 games from 2011-14, he was one of the NFL's most productive players in the red zone, with 50 receptions for 35 touchdowns.
Those expectations were only solidified by the way Graham dominated defenders near the goal line during his first offseason practices with Seattle. He was unstoppable during one OTA session in particular, when he caught several touchdown passes on jump balls from Wilson and made most of them look easy.
It hasn't been that easy since. Graham entered Sunday with eight touchdowns in 31 games with the Seahawks. Five of those eight touchdowns came in the red zone, and none were on jump balls like the one he caught Sunday in the second quarter of Seattle's win over the Rams.
Graham was split out wide left and got a one-on-one matchup with rookie safety John Johnson, who's listed at 6-foot-1, 204 pounds. Johnson didn't have much of a chance to make a play on the ball once Graham used his 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame to box him out.
"We were looking to find Jimmy there and the matchup, and obviously give him a chance to go make a great play," Wilson said. "He's arguably the best tight end in the National Football League and one of the best to ever play the game, so we want to give him opportunities to make those plays."
Graham has come alive, with 17 catches for 170 yards in the past three games.
His minimal impact in the first two games raised anew what has been a recurring concern that he's a poor fit for Seattle's offense, which is a bit unfounded.
Graham's 923 receiving yards last season ranked third among NFL tight ends. That total, as well as his 65 receptions, was the most by a tight end in Seahawks history. Graham produced those numbers a year after suffering a torn patellar tendon, a devastating injury that has sunk other players' careers. And when he went down in Week 11 of the 2015 season, he was on pace to finish with a similar number of receptions and yards as he did the next year.
As Henderson stressed, Graham was never going to catch as many passes for as many yards as he did in New Orleans. That wasn't realistic, considering he was going from a pass-first offense to a more balanced one in Seattle.
But his touchdown numbers in general, and his impact near the goal line in particular, have fallen short of expectations.
That hasn't been all Graham's fault. This season, for instance, the Seahawks have targeted him three times inside the 5-yard line. The first was in Week 1, when officials might have erred in not flagging the Green Bay Packers for pass interference against Graham. Two weeks later, he got a favorable matchup with a much smaller Tennessee Titans defensive back, but Wilson's throw went over his head and out of the end zone.
Those two finally connected on a similar play Sunday.
"It was great to see that," Carroll said. "We've been hoping to get that done, and we'll continue to work that. Obviously, Russell threw the ball perfectly this time. Earlier in the year, we missed it, but we won't miss very many of those. ..."
Meanwhile, the Seahawks were back on the practice field on Monday for a brief walkthrough after returning from their bye-week break.
Seattle is sitting about where one would have expected them to be at this point in the season. They've held serve at home with wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts, and lost two of their three road games at Green Bay and at Tennessee.
However, a win in Los Angeles over a Rams team that has given Seattle all kinds of trouble in recent years was a strong way to enter the bye week. Now the Seahawks will need to get their own house in order before moving into the next stage of the season.
Offensive inconsistency, a relatively non-existent rushing attack and a propensity to give up a few too many big plays on defense have been the hallmarks of Seattle's first five games. Losing Chris Carson for most, if not all, of the season dealt a blow to a rushing attack that continues to flounder too regularly.
While the offensive line has been more solid in pass protection than a season ago, they still get over-matched too often and have trouble creating running lanes for the backs to navigate.
Conversely, Seattle's defense has allowed six runs of at least 25 yards this year after allowed just four in total in all of 2016. So they'll try to tighten that up.
As for the convoluted backfield that's been an issue for fantasy owners?
The Week 5 win in Los Angeles and Carroll's comments afterward all indicated that Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy will continue to some degree share the workload in Seattle's backfield.
Technically, Lacy started against the Rams, but Rawls ended up with more snaps -- 32 compared to 19 -- after playing quite a bit in the fourth quarter. They each finished with 10 touches, and Carroll said of the two the next day: "We like our guys, and really, equal status now is good for us."
There might be times when Seattle goes with one of them primarily if he has a good week of practice or gets hot in a game, but as of now, there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut No. 1 option like Carson was over the first month of the season.
The return of C.J. Prosise, who is expected to play Sunday against the Giants, won't make things any less complex.
We should probably get used to that as fantasy owners.
And finally. ... The Seahawks will place defensive end Cliff Avril on injured reserve as he contemplates his future, Carroll said, via SiriusXM NFL Radio.
“Cliff Avril will go on IR,” Carroll said. “He’s seeing a bunch of doctors, seriously looking at a big decision.”
Avril injured his neck/spine during an Oct. 1 game against the Colts. Avril has remained out since, while seeing specialists to determine his future.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Travis Homer
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, Gary Jennings Jr., Malik Turner, John Ursua
TEs: Luke Willson, Ed Dickson, Will Dissly
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
Jameis Winston has a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder, an injury the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping will not cost him any more playing time.
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall reported, the third-year quarterback was hurt during the first half of Sunday's 38-33 loss at Arizona. X-rays were negative, and head coach Dirk Koetter said an MRI performed Monday revealed no structural damage.
"He'll be day to day for right now," Koetter said, adding that Winston has not been ruled out for Sunday's game at Buffalo. "He's sore. He's sore most weeks. ... We just have to see how it goes during the week."
Winston has started 37 consecutive games to begin his career after entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
He was replaced against the Cardinals by veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who rallied the Bucs (2-3) from a 31-0 third-quarter deficit to make the final score deceptively close.
Winston was injured when he was hit by Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones less than six minutes into the game. He played two more series before being replaced by Fitzpatrick, who threw for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Koetter said Winston almost certainly will not throw much -- if at all -- in practice this week. Still, he reiterated it would be premature to conclude the young quarterback won't be able to play against the Bills.
"The way I understand it is, he will be cleared medically to play," Koetter said.
"I know Jameis can handle a lot of pain. That's not going to be an issue," the coach added. "I think it's going to be more, does Jameis feel he can play at the level he needs to play at? Obviously, though, the No. 1 thing in all this is Jameis' long-term health."
Winston completed his first three passes after being injured against Arizona, and then removed himself after throwing incompletions on his last three attempts.
"We'll be able to see, at some point this week, how it's affecting his velocity. That was the thing yesterday. ... Jameis loves to compete and play, but he felt like he just couldn't drive the ball down the field like he needed to," Koetter said.
Third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin is on the injured reserve-designated to return list. He's eligible to return to practice this week, but can't be activated for another two weeks.
Koetter said a decision had not been made on whether to bring in another quarterback this week.
Meanwhile, the coach said he has full confidence in Fitzpatrick -- a 13-year pro who has started 116 games for six other teams -- if Winston, who was officially listed as a limited participant in Wednesday's practice, can't play.
"That's why you have an experienced backup," Koetter said. "Jameis likes to take every rep in practice, and so you need a backup who's not a developmental guy, a backup who can go in without getting any reps."
Whatever the case, it's safe to assume this is a story we'll all be following closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange suggested, when you fall behind 31-0, it's tough to run the football. The Bucs had only 68 yards rushing on 21 carries Sunday, but Doug Martin did score his second TD in as many games and put up a 2-point conversion.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, "Even in an extremely negative game script, Tampa Bay continued to use Martin in high-value situations. He's seemingly just getting warmed up, and in games where the Bucs can run more, he'll continue to produce. Though it's been promising that he's delivered for fantasy owners in two-straight pass-heavy scripts. He'll look to keep it going next week against the Bills. ..."
Mike Evans was surprisingly productive given the circumstances. In addition to losing Winston early, Evans faced Patrick Peterson. But the Cardinals' shut-down corner aggravated a quad injury and Evans took advantage of the lapse in coverage to score a touchdown.
Also, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Cameron Brate has target totals of four, six, nine and eight in his last four games and scored a touchdown in every one of them. He's become an every-week TE1 play in this offense.
With DeSean Jackson's usage limited to about six targets per week, his production will continue to be hit or miss (a touchdown against the Cardinals helped last Sunday).
QBs: Jameis Winston, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, T.J. Logan, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson, Scott Miller, Bobo Wilson
TEs: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Tanner Hudson
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra framed it, "You know those days when you wake up, sore, feeling like garbage, and the last thing you want to do is go to work, but you do anyway because people are counting on you?
"Marcus Mariota had a day like that, sort of. ..."
On Monday night, he was dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out last week. Mariota clearly isn't 100 percent. He didn't move well in or out of the pocket Monday night. The elusive playmaker couldn't even attempt to run, which is one of his most electric traits. It was obvious why he didn't play the previous game (if this was after rest, what would he have looked like before?). Yet it was obvious even a 57 percent Mariota is 100 times better than a 100 percent Matt Cassel.
Like most of us, Mariota used to dream about playing on Monday Night Football.
When he took his spot on center stage, the quarterback turned in a performance to remember in a 36-22 win over the Colts at Nissan Stadium.
"Credit to Marcus," Titans running back Derrick Henry said. "Now that's a leader. That's a tough guy. To come out here not even 100 percent, and to play against a good division opponent, that shows what type of leader he is, what type of guy he is."
After missing last week's game against the Dolphins with a hamstring injury, Mariota returned to action against the Colts despite being limited in practices during the week.
After the game, head coach Mike Mularkey said Mariota had been given instructions not to run, and risk further injury.
But Mariota was plenty good on this night. He completed 23-of-32 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. He responded well to adversity, and made some big throws in the second half as the Titans rallied. He had a big one-yard gain on a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-one.
"The guy is a complete stud," tackle Taylor Lewan said of Mariota. "That guy is pretty all-time."
Mariota deflected praise at the podium after the game.
Instead, he raved about receiver Taywan Taylor's 53-yard touchdown catch to give the Titans the lead, and Henry's 72-yard touchdown run to seal it. He praised the offensive linemen who gave him time to throw it.
He admitted it was tough to watch last week, and he was champing at the bit to get back.
"I wanted to be out there last week, and unfortunately I wasn't able to do that," Mariota said. "So I was happy to get the green light. It just comes down to everyone just going out there and executing, and we were able to make the plays we needed to win."
Mularkey said he felt good about Mariota's chances of playing over the weekend after the quarterback practiced during the week.
Mariota wasn't perfect early. He missed some throws, and after he threw an interception that was returned 26 yards for a touchdown by linebacker John Simon, things didn't look good, as the Titans trailed 19-9. The Titans struggled in the red zone most the game.
But Mariota stepped up big down the stretch, making one big throw after the next. He found Eric Decker seven times for 88 yards, and Rishard Matthews four times for 69 yards.
It ended up being a memorable night for Mariota, and the Titans.
"For me, I just wanted to make plays for the guys, and the guys made it easy on me," Mariota said. "Protection was great, receivers made plays. ..."
Meanwhile, the Titans have employed various approaches in the backfield over the course of the first six weeks, but they say the one they went with on Monday night is the one they want in the future.
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper notes, DeMarco Murray has played a little under 65 percent of the offensive snaps for the entire season while Derrick Henry is just under 40 percent, but Henry got two more snaps in the win over the Colts. During his conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Mularkey called it a "pretty good model of what we're looking for" out of the backfield.
Henry was the back closing out the win, which he did in style when he ran for a 72-yard touchdown to ice the game. Mularkey was asked if Henry is going to remain in that role.
"Yeah, I could say that," Mularkey said. "That's kind of been the case as of late when we go into four-minute. Again, he's probably a little fresher from not taking a lot of snaps. I really like how it played out with the percentages and how these guys -- I mean, the first guy down to congratulate him on the touchdown was DeMarco Murray, and I thought that kind of shows what kind of players we have in that locker room."
Henry finished with a career-high 131 yards rushing, thanks to that 72-yard TD run. It was the first 100-yard rushing game of Henry's young NFL career.
Alper went on to suggest the Titans would probably like to use everything about Monday night's offensive performance as a model for the future. If they can replicate that on a consistent basis, it should be a successful season in Nashville. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Corey Davis will be out again with his hamstring injury, which he reinjured in Week 2. Being out this week against the Browns means that Davis won't be back until after the Titans' bye week on Oct. 29.
Eric Decker had his best game as a Titan, catching seven passes for 88 yards against the Colts on Monday night.
According to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe, the Titans had light practice Wednesday to recover from Monday night and Murray did not participate. He had a little hamstring tightness during the game. Mariota worked fully on Wednesday. I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but Mularkey told reporters that Mariota had a real good day and the expectation is he’ll be more mobile if he continues to progress. He’s “real close. ..."
And finally. ... Ryan Succop made five field goals and was the Titans' offense for the first three quarters as Tennessee could not find the end zone until scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter. Succop's first field goal allowed him to convert his 47th straight field goal inside of 50 yards, setting a new NFL record. He then extended that four more times to 51 straight kicks made.
Succop was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, Darius Jennings, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 October 2017
As ESPN.com's John Keim noted, this wasn't an audition. It was a reminder. Kirk Cousins showed his current employer why he's important and, perhaps, his future one why he might be worth the wait.
Cousins wasn't spectacular in the Redskins' 26-24 win over the San Francisco 49ers. But he was coolly efficient, and when the Redskins (3-2) needed points in the fourth quarter, he delivered. The 49ers, as usual, made it close. Had they sustained their performance for the whole game, they would have won.
The drama over Cousins' future home will intensify in the offseason: Will the Redskins franchise tag him again? Will the 49ers sign him if he becomes a free agent? Of course, the way C.J. Beathard played in the second half, maybe he's the 49ers' future. He at least deserves a long look over their final 10 games.
While it's true some of Cousins' passes sailed far over the heads of receivers down the field, Sunday's game came down to what he could do at other times, on shorter throws or must-convert situations.
And, once more, Cousins did enough to win.
The Redskins came out fast, sputtered for a while, and finished strong. That sums up Cousins' day too. As Keim suggested, it's hard to dismiss the value of such a performance. Cousins' one interception came on a third-down deep ball that was akin to a 49-yard punt.
"He played efficient," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He had that one pick, but it was bad play design by us. It was like a punt, so it didn't hurt us. Other than that, he threw for over 300 yard, had a touchdown run and a huge scramble. He's doing well."
Just know this: It's why 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan would take Cousins right now -- or after the season. The guy he watched Sunday is the one he felt Cousins would become: Cousins completed 25 of 37 passes for 330 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also had a rushing TD. He connected with eight different receivers.
"I like the way he's spreading the ball out," Gruden said.
The Redskins have long talked about Cousins' improvement, pointing to increased confidence. Earlier in the week, running back Chris Thompson said Cousins used to get nervous when he entered the game. He still was figuring out life in the NFL. Players wondered how good he could become. Now they know.
Already this season, Cousins has led late scoring drives to beat the Rams, tie the Chiefs and now to help beat the 49ers. The Redskins are glad they have him now. How long he remains is a question for another day. After a week of renewed speculation about Cousins' future, the spotlight returns where it belongs, starting with Monday night at Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Josh Doctson has scored touchdowns in two of his last three games, but he only saw a quarter of the snaps in last Sunday's win over the 49ers despite scoring in the first quarter.
Gruden says that will change. Doctson only played sparingly after being selected in the first round of the 2016 draft because of an Achilles injury, leaving the team to "make sure he can handle the little bit that's on his plate" before expanding his portfolio.
"We are going to actively expand [his role], without a doubt," Gruden told the Washington Post. "He didn't get as many reps as I would like at the end of the day when you look at the numbers, but it's our job. We have got to get him in there more and expand it."
Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder and Ryan Grant are all playing at least half the snaps so far this season, something that will likely be changing if Washington follows through on their plans regarding Doctson.
In a related item. ... Two years ago, at age 31, veteran tight end Vernon Davis was a bit player on a Super Bowl champion. A once brilliant career was fading.
Davis left the champion Denver Broncos via free agency and had a resurgence with his hometown Redskins last season. That's continued in 2017 at age 33, helping make up for a limited Jordan Reed (chest, toe injuries) at tight end.
The last two games alone Davis has caught passes for 69 and 51 yards. His presence opposite Reed has kept a top-five offense humming despite the loss of its top two wide receivers in the offseason (DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon), injuries (Reed, Crowder) and a suspect running game (106 yards per game, 21st overall).
Davis had 44 receptions for 583 yards in 2016 with Washington. That was his most yardage since 2013 in San Francisco (52 receptions, 850 yards, 13 touchdowns).
With Reed again struggling to stay healthy early in 2017, the snaps have again been there. Davis has 11 catches for 225 yards and a touchdown through five games. ...
Thompson set a career high with 16 carries in Sunday's win. Thompson's previous best was 12 in a loss at Detroit in Week 8 of 2016.
Thompson's busy day came with Robert Kelley (ankle) sidelined again and it emphasized the belief that coaches don't seem to trust rookie Samaje Perine yet (nine carries, 23 yards).
Gruden doesn't want to use Thompson in a featured role because of Thompson's injury history, but he might have to keep it up. Thompson didn't do much with his carries (just 33 yards), but he racked up 105 receiving yards on just four catches.
We'll have to see if the additional day of treatment the Monday night kickoff offers will be enough to get Kelley back in the mix this week. ...
Also on the injury front, rookie defensive end Jonathan Allen will miss the rest of the season with a Lisfranc sprain in his foot. Allen has a sack and 10 tackles and has started all five games for an improved defensive line rotation. He was selected No. 17 overall in the first round of the 2017 draft.
In addition, the Redskins signed free-agent kicker Nick Rose on Tuesday, replacing the injured Dustin Hopkins, who was placed on injured reserve with a partially torn hip muscle.
Hopkins should be out about six weeks while his hip heals, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. The longtime Skins kicker hopes to be designated to return this season.
Rose spent time in the preseason with the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons and was described by NFL Network's Mike Garafolo as a "big leg. ..."
Washington's secondary has been decimated by injuries. Josh Norman (broken rib) missed the San Francisco game on Sunday. Bashaud Breeland, the other starting cornerback, sustained a knee injury and his status for the game Monday night at the Philadelphia Eagles is uncertain. Safety Deshazor Everett (hamstring) missed the 49ers game. Safety Stefan McClure (hyper-extended knee) is listed as week-to-week after his injury in the 49ers game. Safety Montae Nicholson aggravated his injured shoulder.
QBs: Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Wendell Smallwood, Shaun Wilson, Derrius Guice, Bryce Love
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn, Jehu Chesson, Kelvin Harmon, Cam Sims
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges, Jordan Reed